The contrasting fortunes of the teams in the first Test series of the summer were thrown into sharp relief yesterday. Having already secured the rubber by winning both matches so far, England were preparing to rest the leader of their attack, Jimmy Anderson, from the third Test which begins at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Desperately hoping that they can yet salvage something from the wreckage, West Indies were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their mystery spinner, Sunil Narine, from Trinidad. He is expected to join the squad today as a replacement for the injured fast bowler Kemar Roach and according to the team's coach, Ottis Gibson, will make his Test debut this week.
If leaks from the selectors' room are correct and England decide to rest Anderson with so many games left this summer, it will be of a piece with their declared aim to rotate fast bowlers. But there is also a considerable risk, at odds with the notion that the best side should always be chosen.
Anderson, who is fifth in the list of England's leading wicket-takers, has stipulated his preference for playing every match possible. But the selectors have in mind the amount of cricket left this summer – four Test matches, 14 one-day internationals and four T20s – with the World Twenty20 and a Test tour of India to follow immediately afterwards. Those Test matches in particular are now considered more significant assignments than Thursday's match.
England's other new ball bowler, Stuart Broad, is expected to be named in the squad this morning but it is possible that he too may be omitted from the final XI. Andy Flower, the team's coach, has been a longtime adherent of a rotation policy for bowlers and with the series in the bag this is a perfect opportunity to put it into practice.
With Steve Finn and Graham Onions in the wings and in form, it will also test the contention of the captain, Andrew Strauss, that he would be happy with any combination of the five seam bowlers attached to England's squad this summer. Of course, were England to lose that might make the policy seem less worthwhile.
West Indies are staking much on the advent of Narine. Although he has yet to play a Test match he has had an astonishing few months in limited overs cricket. After making his international debut in India he outsmarted Australia in a one-day series at home.
Although billed as an off-spinner, he has a top spinner and a knuckle ball, propelled by his index and middle fingers which is devilishly difficult to read. He was signed by Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League and was a sensation, taking 24 wickets which helped them to win the title last Sunday and was voted player of the tournament.
Narine would have been on this tour from the start, but could not turn down the $700,000 IPL contract. En route from India, he played for his club side, Queens Park, in a Trinidad in a league Twenty20 tournament semi-final on Friday. Should he arrivetoday, West Indies will not seek dispensation for him to bowl in their two-day match against Leicestershire. But they are still confident he can do a job for them in the Test match. Gibson said: "He's just come back from playing a hell of a lot of cricket. It's his first time playing international cricket in England and there's a disadvantage playing for the first time in these conditions but it's an advantage because the opposition haven't seen him yet. If he were to play this two-day game then there would be some footage of him for them to go and have a look at. He isn't playing and it means that if he plays [in the Test] it will be something completelynew to them so that could be a bit of an advantage for us. "
The tourists batted against Leicestershire yesterday and after the loss of two early wickets, Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo got their heads down and batted with aplomb against some pedestrian bowling in a partnership of 110, which restored their fortunes temporarily at least.
For Kirk Edwards, made captain yesterday, the tour has become a nightmare. He made his fourth duck, lbw to Nadeem Malik, and now has only 20 runs from eight innings.
Australia threaten strike: Series in doubt as players angered by pay dispute
Australia's players are threatening a strike which will stop their one-day tour of England this month. Contract negotiations with Cricket Australia have stalled because of a dispute about performance-related pay and the present agreement expires at the end of June. Compromise is likely but the players have been surprised by the approach of CA, who have ordered state teams to postpone all future contract discussions. Paul Marsh, the players' association chief, said: "There's only 29 days of negotiations left to run so of course we are preparing for the eventuality of not having a deal in place before the end of July. We are looking at all of our different options." Australia are due to play five one-day internationals against England starting on 29 June. Players are also annoyed that CA have changed the definition of what constitutes revenue. Under the present deal players receive 26 per cent of the total, which would be reduced by $30m.