Match Preview – WI vs ENG 1st T20I, WI v ENG

Big picture – T20 World Cup countdown begins

And now for something completely different. Or at least a slight change of pace after three months solid of ODI cricket. England have had their fill for 2023 and even if West Indies’ appetite for the 50-over format has been sharpened by a 2-1 series win, having kicked their heels during the World Cup, it is time to switch gears and dig out the T20 duds for five short-form thrashes starting under the Bridgetown lights on Tuesday.

You are never far from an ICC event these days, with the series beginning an informal countdown to next year’s T20 World Cup, to be played in the Caribbean and USA. England are the defending champions (where have we heard that one before?) and alongside West Indies the only team to have won the competition twice. Both have brought back some of their big guns – West Indies notably recalling Andre Russell two years after his last T20I appearance – although England are still without a number of their 2022 title-winning side, including Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan and Mark Wood.

For the hosts, after two dismal T20 World Cup campaigns in the UAE and Australia – the latter of which saw them knocked out by Ireland in the preliminary group stage – there is an acute sense of needing to reassert their pedigree in what was for a long time West Indies’ strongest format. Already there are signs that Daren Sammy, now six months into his role as white-ball coach, is starting to improve fortunes; since failing at the 50-over qualifier in June, they have beaten India in T20Is and now England in ODIs.

Sammy, famously, was the uncomplaining showrunner who united West Indies’ all-star T20 cast for their World Cup successes in 2012 and 2016, and it seems he has been at work behind the scenes once again to ensure that the likes of Russell – and Jason Holder, Nicholas Pooran and Kyle Mayers, all of whom turned down central contracts from CWI – are involved ahead of a home tournament.

England, too, are beginning to feel the squeeze around player availability and the global T20 calendar that has long been the norm in the Caribbean, but they remain in a stronger position to dictate terms. Will Jacks may have been aggrieved to miss out on a central contract recently, but he is among those looking to place themselves front and centre as Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott begin to plot their second World Cup defence in less than a year.

There will be opportunities, too, for the likes of Phil Salt – who has a World Cup winner’s medal but was left out for the New Zealand series in September – Ben Duckett and Rehan Ahmed to polish their credentials, while John Turner is line for an international debut as the latest addition to the seam-bowling stable after catching the eye with his performances in the Blast and Hundred during the summer.

England have not set much store in bilateral limited-overs competition in recent times – their T20I commitments so far this year include being whitewashed 3-0 in Bangladesh and a 2-2 draw with New Zealand ahead of the ODI World Cup run-in – and will doubtless feel that, given the higher volume of T20 cricket played by most of their players, they have a strong base from which to prepare. This series and the visit of Pakistan in May will comprise their entire World Cup build-up; West Indies, meanwhile, only have a three-match series in Australia to come, after their Pakistan tour was shunted to 2025. Across the next 10 days, in Barbados, Grenada and Trindad, we’ll see how each team is placed.

Form guide

West Indies WLLWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
England WLWWL

In the spotlight – Andre Russell and Jos Buttler

Few players have T20 CVs to compete with Andre Russell, whose exploits across the major leagues – notably during a decade in the IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders – as well as his role in two World T20 wins, put him among the format’s all-time MVPs. It is now more than two years since his last international appearance, as the defending champions limped out of the 2021 World Cup, and it remains to be seen whether a 35-year-old allrounder with a history of knee problems can still be a dominant force. But his talismanic presence is enough in itself to encourage West Indies that they can regain their mojo in the format.

Is a change as good as a rest? Jos Buttler might be about to find out. In action almost permanently since the start of August, through the Hundred and then the build-up and execution of England’s doomed World Cup campaign, followed almost immediately by a return to colours in the Caribbean, Buttler has looked increasingly careworn over recent weeks. Although he ended the worst run of his ODI career with a fifty at the 14th attempt in Antigua last week, that was immediately followed up with a golden duck in the defeat in Barbados. A return to opening the batting might bring the clarity he needs.

Team news – Big names back on both sides

After the experimental feel of the ODIs, West Indies will welcome back a host of battle-hardened internationals for this series. Holder, Pooran, Mayers, Russell and the captain Rovman Powell have all been in action at the Abu Dhabi T10 but should slot back in, with the personnel largely unchanged from the 3-2 victory over India in August.

West Indies (probable): 1 Brandon King, 2 Kyle Mayers, 3 Nicholas Pooran, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Rovman Powell (capt), 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Andre Russell, Romario Shepherd, 8 Jason Holder, 9 Akeal Hosein, 10 Gudakesh Motie, 11 Alzarri Joseph

Mott has confirmed that Buttler will move back up to opener, where he will be partnered by one of the ODI Bash Brothers, Salt or Jacks. Rehan may have to warm the bench, with the return of senior spin duo Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, while 22-year-old quick Turner will hope to make his first England appearance at some point in the series.

England (probable): 1 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 2 Phil Salt, 3 Will Jacks, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Tymal Mills/Gus Atkinson, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley

Pitch and conditions

There was plenty on offer for the bowlers during the rain-affected ODI at Kensington Oval and the prospect of a used surface for this first T20I may put a cap on the run-scoring – although it is a ground on which the ball can fly to all parts, as demonstrated when more than 400 runs were scored by West Indies and England in the third match of five in 2021-22. As with Saturday’s one-day game, there is a chance that the weather may have a say.

Stats and trivia

  • England have won six and lost seven of their previous 13 T20Is against West Indies in the Caribbean, although their overall record in the region is in credit – 11 wins, seven losses – thanks to their World T20 victory back in 2010, which was sealed on this ground against Australia.
  • Their last T20I series in the region finished in a 3-2 series loss, with each of the five matches taking place in Barbados. That included a memorable one-run win in the second match, despite West Indies’ remarkable ninth-wicket stand of 72 in 29 balls.
  • He is also the man with the most international T20 wickets against West Indies – 22 in 13 matches, at an average of 10.95.
  • “It’s very, very important. It’s good that we play a T20 series before so we have an idea of how we are looking to play, we have an idea of the squad and combination that can work for us. It provides a lot of opportunity for us to fine tune.”
    Rovman Powell on the importance of the series against England

    “We’re in the thick of a series which is going to be quite important for us going forward with the T20 here in six months. You naturally need to focus on that.”
    Chris Woakes is back in action and concentrating on the shortest format

    Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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