Wisden.com managing editor Ben Gardner picks out six of the most interesting points of order from West Indies’ intra-squad warm-up game at Old Trafford.
Cricket’s back, although not quite as we know it. A three-day intra-squad game played by West Indies is a reminder of how select the group of those actually allowed to pick up a bat and ball is, and the aesthetics – training kit clashing with white softs, unsponsored stumps and plenty of unmarked bats too – only added to the slightly surreal air, like a video game played with a custom skin.
Still, if the atmosphere was awry, the competitive spirit was as fresh and strong as ever, even if the game did end in a draw. With an Australia v Australia warm-up game last summer having served as perfect finishing school for Marnus Labuschagne and a forerunner to a first successful Ashes retention in a generation, and with fixtures against counties often offering limited value, don’t be surprised if the insular tune-up is here to stay.
And it is great to have any sort of leather on willow in our lives at all, really. PA’s Rory Dollard reported dutifully from the front lines, with plenty of video clips giving us the cover drives and oohs and aahs we’ve so missed. Here are six takeaways from how the match unfolded, and what it means for West Indies’ plans as they attempt to retain their grip on The Wisden Trophy, with the first Test against England starting on July 8:
West Indies hint at preferred XI
At first glance, there seemed little rhyme and reason to the two teams selected, led by Kraigg Brathwaite and Jason Holder respectively, with each containing a mixture of sure starters and fringe players. But if you took the batting line-up from the KB XI and added it to the bowling attack from the JH XI, you got what looked like a decent stab at a functioning Test team, with the thinking presumably to test the best batsmen against the best bowlers. If that was the plan, then the XI they might have in mind is:
Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Jason Holder (c), Shane Dowrich (wk), Rahkeem Cornwall, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel
Hope and Brathwaite offer glimpse of Headingley reprise
If that is team West Indies have in mind, it’s full of players that have put England to the sword at one point or another, and none have done so more memorably than Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope did at Headingley in 2017. However, since then, each has seen their fortunes wane. Hope’s twin hundreds remain his only two Test tons, while Brathwaite has averaged 25 since then and gone 20 innings without so much as a half-century.
Hope has done plenty in ODIs in the intervening period to suggest he hasn’t entirely forgotten how to hold a bat, while Brathwaite has been one of West Indies’ most dependable batsmen since his debut in 2011, and with the pair putting on a century stand for the third wicket in the first innings and each crossing 80, a joint return to form might be coming at just about the perfect time.
Jermaine Blackwood fluffs his lines
While we might have an insight into which way West Indies are leaning, there’s no reason to think the team is set in stone, and Jermaine Blackwood will have been one of those most anticipating pressing his case, with stellar form against England and a mammoth domestic season behind him. However, the attacking right-hander had a game to forget, falling for 3 in the first innings having been promoted to open, and lasting only 18 balls for his 15 in a more familiar middle-order role in the second.
John Campbell under pressure?
That Blackwood promotion might have been a one-off experiment, but it does suggest that incumbent opener John Campbell might be the batsman with the most precarious place. While there have been glimpses of his talent at the top level – not least when hitting his first Test delivery, bowled by Sam Curran, for four in a tone-setting 44 in Barbados in 2019 – he has only one half-century from six Tests, and while he made 49 in the second innings, there was little sign of a rumoured new-found cautious approach. Shayne Moseley, only included as a reserve as it stands but with all these things flexible, will have done his cause plenty of good, scoring 123 runs for once out in the game.
Shannon Gabriel is back, Jason Holder should be soon
One reserve almost certain to not stay as one for much longer is fast, fiery Shannon Gabriel, who proved his fitness emphatically, taking 3-32 in the 13 first-innings overs. “He’s bowling as fast as I’ve seen him for a while,” was head coach Phil Simmons’ assessment. The situation surrounding captain Jason Holder is less clear. A golden duck will have concerned fans less than the fact that an ankle injury sustained earlier on the tour kept him from bowling altogether, though Simmons suggested he should be back to fitness in West Indies’ next warm-up.
Rahkeem Cornwall goes the distance
With stacks of first-class wickets, a hammering of England Lions, and a ten-for in just his second Test under his belt, the big-hitting, off-spin-bowling West Indies all-rounder would have caught the eye even if it weren’t for his imposing frame. However, while a first-innings record of 1-54 from 16 overs was neither here nor there, second-innings tap of 55 runs from 10 overs might prove some cause for concern. Jomel Warrican, Cornwall’s main rival for a spin berth, was pressed into action to swap teams and bowl against the theoretical first-choice batting line-up, and claimed a wicket but was only fractionally less expensive.