GGiven the timing, it’s impossible not to contrast the five-game Twenty20 series between England and the West Indies, which kicks off on Saturday in Barbados, with the other five England games that have just concluded. Aside from the decal on the touring players’ shirts, the contrast is almost total and, given that their compatriots succumb to the intense pressure of the Ashes, the whiteball squad can enjoy having very little of themselves to deal with. . As Eoin Morgan said on Friday, “I think the whole tour is one where the development of our game is more important than the series win.”
Long sandy beaches, warm weather, and its famously carefree spirit make the Caribbean the ideal place to escape your troubles, but it’s the West Indies that have fresher scars to heal. The day after England’s fifth Test against Australia came to its disgraceful conclusion in Hobart, Ireland won the deciding game of a three-game ODI series at Kingston. Home team captain Kieron Pollard admitted afterwards that he was “painful and very sore”. Meanwhile, Sunday will mark three months since they were thrown for 55 by England in the opening game of a miserable defense of their Twenty20 World Cup title.
As with many great sides in the sport, as other teams analyzed and improved their successful formula, the West Indies fell into the trap of assuming the same approach would continue to work and had no answer when, unexpectedly, it didn’t. Since winning four out of five games against Australia in July as they prepared for the World Cup, they have lost eight and won just once – against an even more unlucky Bangladeshi team and by just three runs. They currently rank 10th in the format, just above Zimbabwe and Nepal. England, despite the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals of the World Cup, are at the top.
This will be a different West Indian side from the side that defeated England in Dubai in October, and of the 16 players on their squad, 10 were no more than traveling reserves involved in the UAE. “It’s a difficult situation if we had the same team from the World Cup, but we have a lot of new faces and a lot of guys who want to impress and be part of the team going forward,” West Indies head coach Phil Simmons said this week. “So I think from that point of view it’s not as difficult as it seems.”
England have some familiar faces in the group – including Jofra Archer, who won’t be playing on Friday but trained with the squad and even bowled some in the nets, albeit very slowly and mostly with his left arm – and others less famous such as Harry Brook, George Garton and David Payne, who have not yet played international cricket, as well as Phil Salt, who spent much of his childhood in Barbados, should feel very much at home here.
All will have their sights set on a seat on the plane to Australia in October, and with the multi-size players resting after the Ashes and Liam Livingstone missed at least the first game due to non-Covid illness, most will get a chance to shine, even if Morgan insisted that “I think for this tour it actually looks beyond the” [next] World Cup”.
England’s first game of that tournament, in a group that also includes both Australia and New Zealand 2021 finalists, comes exactly nine months after the first game of this series, a period likely to be marked by nothing more than a soft evolution.
“We know our boys are playing really well in Australia,” Morgan said. “When we look at our strongest squad, or our tactics, our strategy, we feel a little more comfortable than planning for conditions that we might not go into as one of the favourites. We know what works in Australia, so the method we’re trying to implement will be very similar to the one we’ve been using.”
It’s hard to know if any more international cricket is the last thing England need in this moment of misery-forced introspection, or if it might be the ideal tonic. “We’ll try to go out and have fun, play with a smile on our face,” Morgan said. “If we’re having a good time, hopefully other people will enjoy watching us play.