On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, the panel discussed the conditions England and West Indies are likely to encounter in the first Test at the Ageas bowl, and who those conditions could favour.
In England’s three-day warm-up, played at the Southampton venue, those watching noted that the conditions appeared to be slow and low, something borne out by the scorecard. Wickets didn’t fall in heaps, and virtually every batsman was able to get set; across all four innings, there were only two single-figure scores inside the top six.
While those conditions, if repeated in the first Test, might be seen as neutralising England’s home advantage, where quicks attuned to exploiting swing and seam have been able to dominate in recent years, the panel agreed that a tricky batting pitch could narrow the gap between the two sides, with West Indies’ batting travails meaning none of their squad average more than 35 with the bat.
“In one sense you’d say a flat pitch would suit the West Indies,” said Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman. “You’d remove the typical English conditions which West Indies have struggled with over the last 20 years now. That said, I kind of feel like West Indies’ best chance is a really low scoring match where everyone gets bundled out twice and West Indies do it to England slightly better than England do it to West Indies.
“It is really hard to tell. I’m sure a lot of the West Indies batsmen who have struggled over here would be dying for a flat pitch to get themselves into the series and actually score some consistent runs. The players that stand out, Hope and Brathwaite who did so well last time, have really struggled for runs.”
Santokie Nagulendran, co-founder of the Caribbean Cricket Podcast, agreed. “Hope, as you said, the only two centuries he’s scored in his Test career have been in that Test match at Headingley,” he said. “I completely agree with what you’ve said, West Indies best chance is a pitch where they can bundle England out for a low score and capitalise, which is what they did in their last Test against Afghanistan.
“I don’t think a flat pitch would favour them just because it’s hard to know whether the batsmen will be able to make the most of it and put up a big score. They’ve really struggled to hit more than 300 in the last two years. Brathwaite, in the last two years, has averaged which, in any other side, would mean he’d be dropped from the team. That kind of highlights the lack of viable options for that opener’s slot.”