With only a week until the start of the first Test, West Indies are still without their full squad. It is no way at all to prepare for a series against England for which they have always been long second favourites.
The first tourists of the summer arrived a week ago with 12 of their 15 players – already a perilously low number – and two of the absentees have now joined their team-mates.
Marlon Samuels, who has been playing in the Indian Premier League, landed late on Monday. The newcomer Assad Fudadin at last made it yesterday, after spending seven days in Jamaica awaiting the necessary visa, though not before being delayed another two hours at UK Border Control. It is confidently expected that his fellow Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine will fly in today, though he remained in Jamaica yesterday.
Deonarine will certainly not make it in time to play in the side's second and final practice match, against England Lions, which starts at Wantage Road today. He would have a been strong candidate for the team at Lord's next Thursday after showing the makings of a Test batting all-rounder in his 11 matches so far.
If it looks shambolic, that is because it is. The West Indies board was informed what the visa requirements would be and despite the delay it has not contacted the England and Wales Cricket Board for help. Deonarine's hold-up opens the way for Samuels to return to the side, providing he can score some runs against the Lions.
That will depend on actually getting to the crease. Covers were spread-eagled across the Northamptonshire ground yesterday and while the forecast suggests there will be an improvement by the weekend, pitch conditions are still likely to favour seam bowling.
West Indies were forced into the indoor nets for practice, the rains arriving at the ground almost as soon as their bus entered the gates. If the next four days are crucial for the tourists simply to get some cricket of any kind under their belt, the Lions are also aware of what might accrue from their efforts.
Almost all the present England side have emerged through either the A team or Lions sides. Although non-appearance does not entirely preclude Test selection – as the captain, Andrew Strauss, demonstrates – it is clear that it makes it much more difficult.
For many of today's Lions the way ahead can hardly seem clear, not least because of the settled nature of the Test side. James Taylor, the captain, has been talked of in England terms for five years but others such as Jonny Bairstow, the absent Ben Stokes, Samit Patel and the renascent Nick Compton may have sneaked ahead of him.
Compton, 28, first played for the Lions five years ago but until the start of this season he had been treading water internationally. What a start he has had to 2012, with three centuries already, two of them doubles.
Compton can never escape his lineage because his grandfather, Denis, is an iconic figure in the history of English sport and perhaps its first modern superstar. Were Compton grandfils to become the first player for 24 years to score 1,000 runs before the end of May – and he has 715 at present – the attendant hoopla would be doubled because of his ancestor. Compton was relaxed in speaking about the 1,000 runs and his international ambitions yesterday – make no mistake, he wants both.
It is to be hoped that Taylor does not fall prey to what is rapidly becoming the curse of the Lions captaincy. Nominally, of course, the position should put the incumbent on the fast track to an England cap. But recent Lions captains have included Mike Yardy, Rob Key, Andrew Gale and James Hildreth, only one of whom, Key, has played Test cricket (but not after he led the Lions). There is a serious point here for the selectors.
If the Lions team is to be a grooming ground it might be more profitably used to find international captains. True, Michael Vaughan led an A tour before he became England captain, but he is the exception proving the rule.
At present, England are trying to make a captain out of Alastair Cook by allowing him to lead the one-day team. He is doing adequately, though without any previous experience or much evidence that he is a natural leader.
Taylor led the Lions last winter, is leading them now and it is to be hoped there is a purpose to it. Then again, he opened for the Lions last summer against the Sri Lankans at Derby at the selectors' behest, made a well-crafted 76 and almost immediately went back to the middle order, even though there is now a dearth of opening candidates.
The Lions is the correct system for producing England players – but it is still evolving.
Three to the fore: England prospects
Go, Jonny, go, go, go. You can imagine the headlines now if Jonny B really is as good as his promise suggests. He has had a mixed one-day international career so far but has made an ideal start to the summer in difficult conditions (both on the pitch and in his team), with two centuries for Yorkshire. It begins to look that if another place opens up in the middle order, he may be the one to fill it. Selectors want to be sure their chosen ones are ready, but the danger with that is waiting forever. Could probably do without the burden of wicketkeeping here.
His career, and indeed his life, were threatened by a pulmonary embolism in the 2010 close season. He is deeply reluctant to talk about the illness, save for the fact that he thought he might be finished with cricket. But he made 300 not out in his fifth innings back, against Yorkshire, in August and while a long-term Test career is unlikely the selectors still clearly see something in him at almost 32. The feeling is that if an opener were injured Carberry – who played one Test against Bangladesh in early 2010 – would be the stop-gap candidate.
Fast bowler born in South Africa, like so many wannabe England players. Now with Surrey. He is one of a plethora of pacemen at England's disposal at present and although his (comparatively) slight stature (a mere 6ft 1in) might tell against him in this age of the giant quick, his undoubted pace counts. His selection for the one-day squad late last year was a surprise, given he had played only three one-day county matches, but it indicated the selectors had plans for him. Has 11 wickets in two matches this season.
Stephen BrenkleyReuse content