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Cricket news - On the World Cup home-straight, England out on a fine-tuning mission
The countdown begins. On the home-straight to the 2019 World Cup, the series offers Windies and England with a final chance to fine-tune their ODI plans in competitive action. While there are warm-ups, and England have five games at home to Pakistan in May, squads will essentially need to be picked, at least in the minds of the selectors, by March.
With that in mind, both teams would probably like to get this series decided within the first three games to give them the wiggle room to experiment with different options. The hosts though are the ones in desperate need of a winning formula, or at least one that offers some hope after a dire couple of years in the format in which they have only registered 11 wins out of 40.
Five changes in the Windies squad rejig the batting and, even though Chris Gayle is approaching 40, his return will still have bowlers thinking twice when running in. Evin Lewis' injury means there may be less to worry about at the other end at the start of the innings but his absence also highlights that further personnel swaps are to be expected when a World Cup squad has to be submitted.
England though will back themselves to be dexterous from the off. Without wishing to do down the next month, they would probably get more out of it if they mixed things up a bit. For example, how much more can they learn about Jos Buttler? Eoin Morgan isn't afraid to ring the changes and has even sat out a few games during his tenure to give others a go. Expect some shuffling. But not for the first match.
England are like to go into this fixture with what they hope will be their starting XI in their World Cup opener against South Africa at the Oval on May 30. For those such as Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Buttler, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, there is a chance for revenge of sorts after defeat in the Test series. Not much, granted, but enough for someone like Bairstow to cast aside any red-ball doubts by hitting a white one very hard indeed.
While there was not much spin during the Test series, the surfaces prepared for the ODIs may be more amenable to turn. England will always go into a match with Moeen and Rashid but Windies will think twice about whether to deploy leg spinner Devendra Bishoo. The hosts do struggle against wrist spinners in limited overs cricket but with flat and true pitches expected for the World Cup, it may be the case that Jason Holder and the Windies management will focus solely on building a team for then rather than short term success.
That being said, rankings points are on offer. Windies, who made it to this World Cup by the skin of their teeth with a fortuitous win over Scotland in the qualifying competition at the start of 2018, will be desperate to improve on their ICC ranking of ninth to ensure a more comfortable route to 2023's competition.
When: Wednesday, February 20 at 11:00 AM (local), 3 PM (GMT), 8:30pm (IST)
Where: Bridgetown, Barbados
What to expect: Bright and sunny in Barbados - is it every anything but? - with a high of 28 degrees will mean the fitness of the side fielding first will be tested. Interestingly, the threat of rain increases a few hours into the match. While it may be unlikely any precipitation is forthcoming, the change of atmospheric conditions may enhance the dew factor for the second innings. Slippery ball, anyone?
As mentioned above, perhaps a late call between Bishoo and Joseph depending on conditions. Lewis' injury has given Pooran a chance to show what he can do at the top of the order after impressive performances for the Sylhet Sixers in the Bangladesh Premier League. He is yet to represent Windies in ODIs.
Probable XI: Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmeyer, Jason Holder, Rovman Powell, Ashley Nurse, Devendra Bishoo/Alzarri Joseph, Oshane Thomas and Kemar Roach
Alex Hales played the warm-up match as a middle order batsman after Jos Buttler was given the chance to recharge his batteries. That is likely to be the only change from that convincing 171-run win.
Probable XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood
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