Clash of heavyweights as defending champions take on hosts


Match details

West Indies vs England
June 19, St Lucia, 8.30pm local time

Big picture:

After the angst they endured in the group stage, England have floated down to St Lucia on a wave of exhalation. Whatever happens in their T20 World Cup defence from hereon in, their avoidance of a humiliating first-round exit might yet prove to be as much of a fillip as four rousing wins from four. Their campaign can begin in earnest now, which is just as well, because they are about to bump into a team which no such concerns to weigh them down.

England and West Indies are each competing for an unprecedented third T20 World Cup title, and the events at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground in Beausejour – a venue named in honour of the man who delivered the hosts those first two titles – could go some way towards confirming the readiness, or otherwise, of these two very real contenders for the crown.

West Indies are fit, focused and firing on all cylinders. They come into this contest on an eight-match unbeaten run, and if there were a few early-tournament nerves on show in an anxious pair of Group C victories over Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, then their unmitigated thrashings of Uganda and a highly-rated Afghanistan have assuaged them in uncompromising fashion.

Quite apart from the power of their recent victories, the range of West Indies’ match-winners has propelled them firmly into the title mix. From Andre Russell’s 71 from 29 balls against Australia in Perth, to Brandon King’s 79 from 45 against South Africa in Jamaica, via Roston Chase and Johnson Charles, and all the way through to Sherfane Rutherford’s innings-salvaging 68 not out against New Zealand and Nicholas Pooran’s ballistic 98 from 53 balls against Afghanistan, they’ve time and again showcased a batting line-up with complete faith in each other’s attributes, and an ability to stand up when called upon.

Only the captain, Rovman Powell, has been short of recent runs, even though a 24-ball fifty in a warm-up match against Australia is sufficient proof that his eye is still firmly in. With Sammy ensconced as head coach, and instilling the same spirit of collective responsibility that powered their twin titles in 2012 and 2016, England know there’ll be no room for lapses if their mini-resurgence is to be translated into vital Super Eight points.

There were certainly a few of those on show in their timid display against Australia in Barbados, most particularly in a middle-order that found it impossible to cut loose once the powerplay fielding restrictions had been lifted. At times in their trudge to a deeply one-sided 36-run loss, it was like watching their formless performances at the 50-over World Cup in India, a campaign that Jos Buttler had tried to pretend never happened in some notably terse media engagements at the start of this trip.

The disjointed nature of England’s build-up is a partial excuse – after two wash-outs on home soil against Pakistan and three matches against Scotland, Oman and Namibia that saw them bat for a total of 13.2 overs, time in the middle has been a rarity, especially with Buttler and Phil Salt in a solid vein of form at the top. But these big-match players should have visualised enough scenarios in their time to make light of such straitened circumstances. They were spared a soggy exit by that break in the clouds in Antigua. Now’s the time to prove that they are worthy of the reprieve.

Form guide

West Indies: WWWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
England: WWLWW

In the spotlight – Phil Salt and Gudakesh Motie

Go hard or go home. That has been Phil Salt‘s mantra throughout his T20 career, and right now, his unrelenting approach at the top of England’s order has never been more valuable. After flitting around the periphery for several seasons, Salt’s international breakthrough came against this same West Indies team back in December, when his back-to-back centuries in Grenada and Trinidad carried the attack back to the world’s most aggressive batting line-up, and reminded England of the fearlessness that they had so clearly mislaid in their 50-over World Cup defence. Given the truncated nature of their 20-over campaign to date, it’s hard to judge exactly how the middle-order is tracking, which means that impetus at the top could be all the more important as they seek their first major scalp of the campaign.

In a power-packed line-up, there’s something unassuming about Gudakesh Motie‘s left-arm offerings, but as England discovered in December – and as seven wickets at 11.85 amply attest now – his relentless flight and guile has the ability to apply a handbrake to all manner of free-flowing teams, particularly ones quite as stacked with right-handers as England’s. In his first T20I encounter with Jos Buttler’s men, in Grenada six months ago, he returned the remarkable figures of 1 for 9 in four overs, then capped that impact with 3 for 24 in the series decider in Trinidad. Straightening the ball at the stumps from round the wicket might not seem the most complex of modus operandi, but if there’s an iota of assistance in a used surface in St Lucia, he’s likely to exploit it.

Team news

Not a lot of concerns for West Indies after a dominant display against Afghanistan, although they do have a handful of selection conundrums. Roston Chase and Shai Hope are competing for the same middle-order berth, while Romario Shepherd missed the last match for paternity leave, but is due back with the squad in good time for the match. He could slot back in ahead of Obed McCoy.

West Indies (possible): 1 Brandon King, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 4 Shai Hope/Roston Chase, 5 Rovman Powell (capt), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sherfane Rutherford, 8 Akeal Hossain, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Gudakesh Motie, 11 Obed McCoy/Romario Shepherd.

England mixed it up a touch after the showers in Antigua had reduced their Namibia match to 11 overs, with Sam Curran and Chris Jordan both included to offer a wider range of death-bowling options. Both could keep their places, with Jordan’s death bowling and extra batting giving him an edge over Mark Wood. Will Jacks also seems likely to come back into the XI, potentially down the order at No. 6, with Liam Livingstone missing training due to a sickness bug – but having recovered from the side niggle he suffered against Namibia.

England (possible): 1 Phil Salt, 2 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 3 Jonny Bairstow, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Will Jacks, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Mark Wood/Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley

Pitch and conditions

This will be another outing for the belter of a surface on which West Indies racked up 218 for 5 against Afghanistan on Monday, so a high-scoring contest is in prospect. The dimensions are a touch lop-sided, 63 metres on one square boundary, compared to 72 metres on the other, but the prevailing wind tends to blow to the longer side, so the big hitters can expect some bang for their buck.

Stats and trivia

  • England and West Indies duked it out in an entertaining T20I series in December, with West Indies winning 3-2 thanks to a four-wicket win in the decider in Trinidad.
  • Moeen Ali and Obey McCoy each need one wicket to reach 50 in T20Is, while Akeal Hossain needs two more for the same milestone.
  • West Indies themselves have played in ten of the 21 T20Is at the venue, winning six of those, including five of their last six.
  • Quotes

    “It’s good that we’re starting here and actually we play one game on it, before the start of the Super Eight. We’re a little bit accustomed to the bounce and accustomed the wicket. Hopefully that would suit us a little bit more than the Englishmen.”
    West Indies captain Rovman Powell wants his team to make use of having already played on Wednesday’s strip

    “I think maybe the West Indies would be hopefully trying to get their own back for our fans that were so incredible… they’ll try and rally them and create this cauldron of an atmosphere tomorrow night. It’s going to be incredible.”
    Reece Topley predicts strong St Lucian support after England’s fans outnumbered the locals in December’s T20I series

    Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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