West Indies one-day series a chance for Ashley Giles to stake claim for England's top job
England start their peculiar one-day series against West Indies on Friday. It is also the launch of Ashley Giles' audition for the job of head coach and the beginning of a new era for the team.
Rarely can a one-day series of three matches of apparently little significance or reason have been invested with such significance. The home side will start as marginal favourites.
Although their record in the long form of the short game is patchy, the recent drubbing that England suffered at the hands of Australia, to whom they lost the series of 50-over games 4-1, makes it impossible to suppose they may rediscover their touch so quickly.
The players are conveying the impression that they would like to do it for Giles, the England limited-overs coach. While he is probably the preferred candidate to replace Andy Flower as head coach, it would be difficult to appoint him if England continue in the Caribbean and in the World Twenty20 next month in the style they demonstrated throughout a deeply disappointing tour of Australia.
"He's great," said Stuart Broad, England's captain on this tour, of Giles. "He's pretty relaxed but very clear on what he wants out of the side. He does set high goals for us and expects a lot.
"In training he's really coming down hard on us on what he expects, little things and details and the processes. Things like not bowling no-balls in training because that can affect your length in matches. He's gone back to basics in making the players expect more of themselves in training to hopefully put that into practice in games."
Giles had some success in guiding England to the Champions Trophy final in England last year, a match they should have won but contrived to lose to India. It is possible that his team in Australia were affected by the dreadful outcome of the Test series and were simply unable to repel a marauding Australia side.
This trip to the Caribbean, after a tumultuous few weeks, is seen as an opportunity to draw a line and start afresh. It still does not quite explain the presence in the schedules of the three one-day internationals which will precede three Twenty20 matches played over five days in Barbados.
They have presumably been arranged to meet the needs of the International Cricket Council's shambolic future tours programme, of television, and of the holidaymakers who were promised them in their trip package. Essentially it is practice for England's Twenty20 team before they try to regain the world title in Bangladesh from next month.
Broad said: "We've got strong areas we need to improve on in ODI cricket. I think our death bowling is somewhere where we need to improve. That comes with yorkers and our change-ups and that will also help us in Bangladesh. The pitches there can be pretty good to bat on so getting up in the hole is important. The bowlers have been having a good focus on their yorker bowling. The pitch the other day was quite hard to score off spin which is good prep for Bangladesh. We need to do some good work on that and Graham Thorpe made us all bring our pencil bats."
West Indies have plenty of powerful hitters in their order but they can fail collectively as well. England, for whom Ravi Bopara will become the 18th England player to play 100 ODIs, need to change their strategy slightly to ensure they have more runs on the board after 30 overs than they did in Australia.
An early win for a beleaguered side is probably essential. Otherwise the new era post-Kevin Pietersen will look decidedly dodgy.
First ODI: Antigua details
West Indies K O A Powell, D R Smith, K A Edwards, D M Bravo, M N Samuels, D J Bravo (captain), D J G Sammy, D Ramdin (wk), S P Narine, R Rampaul, J O Holder
England L J Wright, A D Hales, B A Stokes, J E Root, E J G Morgan, J C Buttler (wk), R S Bopara, T T Bresnan, C J Jordan, SC J Broad (captain), J C Tredwell.
Umpires G Brathwaite (WI) and M Erasmus (SA)
Pitch report Three different pitches have been cut for the matches over the next few days. All are likely to be slightly untrustworthy but with plenty of runs.
Television Sky Sports 2, 1-10pm GMT.
Odds West Indies 11-10 England 8-11.
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