13th May 2012 5:25pm | By Tom Sturrock
It was a miserable winter abroad for the English cricket team.
They turned up in the Emirates expecting to face a typically dishevelled Pakistan but were instead bamboozled by spin and left humbled by a 3-0 whitewash. A tour to Sri Lanka followed – they eked out a 1-1 draw but it was an underwhelming performance from the world’s top Test side.
This week, though, England begin their summer season in more familiar surroundings – at Lord’s – against a touring West Indies outfit and former fast bowler and Sky Sports pundit Bob Willis is suitably bullish about the hosts’ chances.
“I’m very confident indeed against the West Indies. England had a difficult winter against spin over in the Emirates and in Sri Lanka,” Willis says. “But on their home patch, against guys who probably aren’t used to the ball swinging and seaming around, I expect it to be 3-0.”
Ian Botham, one of Willis’s fellow pundits, has been quick to shrug off the results against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although Willis does not expect those series to have any lingering effects this summer, he does acknowledge the questions regarding England’s inability to perform on the sub-continent and the implications for how highly this current outfit should be rated.
“Later this year, England return to play India and that will be a real test for those guys and of what that experience against Pakistan and Sri Lanka did to their confidence,” he says. “That’s the real yardstick for teams – to be able to go to India and win there. The Australians did it in 2004 but I think that until England or South Africa manage to do that, they can’t be considered in the class of that Australian side.”
Those are questions for later this year, though. In the short-term, the English side remains settled, although Willis would prefer to see the attack bolstered by a fifth bowler.
“My preference is for five bowlers – which means you’d have Prior at six and Bresnan at seven, followed by Broad, Swann, Anderson and Finn,” he says.
“But England won’t do that. Their tried and tested formula is to go in with four bowlers. Given that, I’d have thought Bopara will get the nod ahead of Patel for the first Test. He’s been around the team for a long time and I think England need to find out about him – to either give him an opportunity and stick with him or find someone else.”
Barring injury, the rest of England’s line-up picks itself but in recent months, the nagging doubts over Andrew Strauss’s lack of runs have surely deepened. Since the start of 2010, Strauss has scored 1237 runs at a decidedly modest average of a tick over 30. Conventional wisdom suggests Strauss’s spot is not in any immediate danger, but Willis acknowledges the concern over the skipper’s lean trot.
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