Eng­land’s ‘big­gest year in a gen­er­a­tion’ starts with Windies test

Gulf Times Sport - - CRICKET -

Eng­land be­gin a 2019 that Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief ex­ec­u­tive Tom Har­ri­son be­lieves rep­re­sents a “once in a gen­er­a­tion” op­por­tu­nity with a West In­dies tour that could yet prove un­com­fort­ably awk­ward.

With both a World Cup – a tour­na­ment the Eng­land men’s team have never won – and an Ashes on home soil on the hori­zon, it will be a chal­lenge for Eng­land’s lead­ing crick­eters in both the one-day and Test for­mats to main­tain their fo­cus on the chal­lenge in front of them rather than be dis­tracted by the big­ger prizes ahead.

A three-Test tour and five­match one-day se­ries in the Caribbean, which gets un­der­way with a warm-up fix­ture against a West In­dies Board XI in Bar­ba­dos next week, should pro­vide a good barom­e­ter of Eng­land’s progress.

Joe Root’s Test side are sec­ond in the world rank­ings, while Eoin Morgan’s men top the equiv­a­lent one-day stand­ings.

By con­trast, the West In­dies are cur­rently eighth in the Test ta­ble and ninth in the ODI list.

Eng­land, fresh from an em­phatic away Test se­ries win in Sri Lanka that fol­lowed a home suc­cess against top-ranked In­dia, will be firm favourites.

And yet Eng­land have won only one Test se­ries in the West In­dies since 1968, when Michael Vaughan’s team sealed a 3-0 vic­tory in 2004.

They’ve toured the Caribbean twice more since then, los­ing 1-0 in 2009 and then draw­ing 1-1 four years ago af­ter a buildup where ECB chair­man Colin Graves had dis­missed the West In­dies as “medi­ocre”.

Root’s men will have to cope with the pres­sure of be­ing over­whelm­ing favourites to beat a strug­gling West In­dies side who will be coached by an English­man in the re­cently-ap­pointed Richard Py­bus.

Yet for Eng­land, the stakes are even higher in what will be Aus­tralian coach Trevor Bayliss’s fi­nal year in charge be­fore step­ping down.

Fol­low­ing their mis­er­able first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup, for­mer Eng­land cap­tain turned ECB supremo An­drew Strauss, made lim­ite­dovers cricket a pri­or­ity.

This year’s edi­tion will prove the worth of that pol­icy.

More than that, the fact the Ashes and the World Cup fall in the same sea­son - some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened since the in­au­gu­ral 1975 men’s World Cup in Eng­land – could pro­vide the ECB with a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with a wider Bri­tish sport­ing pub­lic who have lost con­tact with the game.

Many ca­sual fans, and po­ten­tial cricket lovers, were ‘aban­doned’ when the ECB de­cided to end live free-to-air tele­vi­sion cov­er­age of home in­ter­na­tion­als af­ter Eng­land’s 2005 Ashes tri­umph in favour of more lu­cra­tive deals with satel­lite broad­cast­ers. But as Michael Ather­ton, the for­mer Eng­land cap­tain turned The Times cricket cor­re­spon­dent wrote, the ab­sence of a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional foot­ball tour­na­ment in 2019 of­fers cricket the chance to “own” the sum­mer in its birth­place.

“Rarely, though, have the two big­gest events in the English cricket cal­en­dar, the World Cup and Ashes – as well as the women’s Ashes – com­bined with so lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion for what mar­ket­ing types term ‘eye­balls’,” said Ather­ton.

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