England will begin the three-Test series in the Caribbean next week full of confidence after their 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka in November, but West Indies captain Jason Holder insists his team can overturn the form book and inflict a damaging defeat on Joe Root’s men.
Victory in Sri Lanka marked a significant line in the sand for this England team – a first away Test series success since 2016 and a welcome continuation of the form that saw them beat India 4-1 at home last summer.
Things have not gone to plan on their last two tours of the Caribbean, though, with England losing 1-0 in 2009 and a 1-1 draw in 2015 signalling the end of Peter Moores’ reign as coach.
England do appear better placed to succeed in this latest series, which starts in Barbados, the scene of their defeat in the final Test four years ago, next Wednesday.
Holder, back from a shoulder injury that saw him miss his country’s tour of Bangladesh late last year, is full of admiration for how England have improved since the teams last met in Test cricket back in 2017, when the West Indies pulled off a stunning win at Headingley during a 2-1 series defeat.
Yet he has warned Root and his players that this upcoming series is not a foregone conclusion.
“England are one of the better Test teams around the world right now and to beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka 3-0 is obviously a wonderful feat,” said Holder. “It shows the quality and depth they have within their side.
“It will be a tough series as it always is against England. But in recent times we’ve really been able to push them so now it’s about us doing it more consistently as a collective unit and putting together Test victories.
“We’ve shown we can beat them – we’ve beaten them in the past – so it’s now about us doing it over a period of time and clinching the series.”
Despite their success in Sri Lanka, England still have issues over their batting, with opening pair Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings both failing to yet nail down their places and Jonny Bairstow still largely untested at No.3 despite his century in his first game in that position during the final Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
“I definitely think they’re beatable,” said Holder. “They’ve got a few players who are trying to find their way on the international circuit as well and they’re batting probably hasn’t been as consistent as they would like, especially at the top of the order.
But they’ve got some quality players in the middle-order and they bat very deep. So that’s something we’re very mindful of going into this series.
“They’ve also got a quality bowling attack and some stars of the game in terms of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – they’re wonderful competitors. They’ve got matchwinners on any given day and that’s why they are a quality cricket side. But, as I said, we’ve beaten them before and we know we can beat them again.”
England this week dropped from second to third in the Test rankings after South Africa’s 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan. West Indies, though, languish down in eighth – with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below them in the rankings.
Given that lowly standing it is no surprise the team’s form has been patchy, with defeats in their past two series in Bangladesh and India seeing them go into next week’s first Test against England on the back of four consecutive defeats.
Their home record has been better, with a 2-0 win against Bangladesh and a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka last summer.
Yet things have not been helped by uncertainty over the head coach position since Australian Stuart Law stepped down last September to take over at Middlesex, with Englishman Richard Pybus recently installed as interim coach until the end of the World Cup.
So where are the West Indies as a team in the longest format right now?
“I think we’ve made significant strides as a group,” says Holder. “We probably didn’t finish the year the way we wanted after tough tours of both India and Bangladesh but having said that we’ve seen a lot of positives within the group.
“I think we need to now find that next bit of effort to push a little harder and be a bit more consistent in terms of winning. We’ve shown that we can win Test matches against the best sides in the world. It’s a matter now of doing it consistently.”
As for conditions in the Caribbean, England can expect similar to those they have found on their past few tours – namely slow pitches that promise to be hard work for the seamers.
“I don’t think any of us can predict how the pitches are going to play in the Caribbean,” says Holder. “But traditionally for the last decade they have been on the slower side and tend to deteriorate quicker than previously.
I don’t expect conditions to be too different from when England last played in 2015. They’ll probably be the same kind of wickets – decent for batting the first few days, then days four and five a little more activity happening within the surface.”
Beyond the Test series, Holder also confirmed he expects Chris Gayle, who “declined selection” for the recent tours of India and Bangladesh, to be available for the upcoming limited-overs matches against England and this summer’s World Cup.
The explosive opener turns 40 this year and Holder said: “I expect him to be available for both. He’s given up a lot to make himself available to West Indies cricket and he probably knows this is going to be his last World Cup.
“He would want to be there to finish on a high. I’ve not had any conversations with him or anyone about how long he’s going to play on for. I think realistically speaking we could all probably say this will be his last World Cup.”