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05 May 2009 10:23
The Indian Premier League (IPL) threatens to play a major role in the Test campaign between England and the West Indies even before a ball is bowled in Wednesday’s series opener here at Lord’s.
England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff has already been ruled out of the two-Test series after sustaining a knee injury playing in the lucrative Twenty20 event.
And West Indies captain Chris Gayle only arrived in England following his IPL stint in South Africa in the early hours of Monday morning.
On his day, opening batsman Gayle can blast a big score against any attack.
But West Indies coach John Dyson is unhappy the left-hander, who in March led his side to a 1-0 Test series win over England in the Caribbean, has given himself so little time to acclimatise to local conditions.
However, not all players need plenty of nets and lots of rest to be at their best and Dyson is banking on Gayle’s “big-match” temperament asserting itself in the first of a two-Test series.
But the former Australia opening batsman was clearly unhappy Gayle had been allowed to leave it so late before joining the team.
“Chris is a big-match player—he handles pressure, all sorts of it, very well. He’s played magnificent cricket in all forms of the game over the last 12 months,” Dyson told reporters at Lord’s on Monday.
“He says he’s in good touch, seeing the ball well.
“The board gave him clearance until May 2—but then our board considered an extra day or two didn’t matter, so that’s that.
“Medical science says that everyone gets jet-lag.
If your flying time is 10, 12 hours you probably need a couple of days to recover properly from the flight.
“Then you need a couple of nets and probably a practice game.
Sri Lanka were due to be England’s opponents for this series, only to withdraw because of their players’ IPL commitments.
As it is, West Indies fast bowler Fidel Edwards only arrived following his IPL stint on Sunday while the other England players involved in the tournament apart from Flintoff—Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood—have not long been in the country either.
This will be the earliest Test ever staged in an English season and so far the West Indies have struggled to adjust to the local environment.
Draws with Leicestershire and Essex were followed by a 10-wicket thrashing at the hands of the England Lions.
There is no doubt the tourists will be looking to the likes of Gayle and the obdurate Shivnarine Chanderpaul, long a thorn in England’s side, to stiffen their batting.
One factor in their favour could be the Lord’s pitch.
The last six Tests there have been draws but England have struggled to bowl sides out twice anywhere in recent times—they failed to take 20 wickets in any of their “winter” Tests in India and the Caribbean.
That has led to England freshening up their attack by calling in the likes of uncapped pace duo Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan in a 12-man squad, the first since Andy Flower was confirmed as their new head coach.
Both seamers are set to play at Lord’s with Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar contesting what is likely to be the lone spot for a spinner.
Onions has effectively replaced fellow Durham quick Stephen Harmison in the squad, England appearing to have lost patience with the talented paceman whose temperament has never quite seemed the equal of his physical gifts.
Character also appears to have played a part in Bopara’s selection at No 3 ahead of the likes of Ian Bell, Owais Shah and former captain Michael Vaughan.
The Essex all-rounder seized a rare Test chance to make a century against the West Indies in Barbados before considerations of “balance” saw him dropped.
For all Dyson’s concerns about Gayle’s readiness, the fact remains that England—in an era of central contracts designed to ensure their players are primed for international matches—have now gone 14 Test series without winning the opening match.
But James Anderson, in an unaccustomed role as a senior pace bowler, insisted England, who often give the appearance of being obsessed by the Ashes series that starts in July to the exclusion of all else, were ready to hit the ground running.
“We are aware of the statistic,” he said “It is something we want to change and put right.
“We feel that if we continue to play the way we did toward the end of the West Indies series—bat the way we did, pile on the runs, bat once—we have the firepower to get 20 wickets.”—Sapa-AFP
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