Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

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Thursday, 10 May 2012

England must beware the West Indies threat

The 1st Test of the summer gets underway next week and the West Indies have already been written off. Former England captain Michael Vaughan is tipping our bowlers to steamroller them for less than 250 an innings & that only bad weather will save them from a 3-0 drubbing. But is rain really the only way this proud cricketing nation can take England to a fifth day? talkSPORT’s cricket correspondent JON NORMAN doesn’t think so.
Let’s be clear. Over the course of three Tests cricket’s 7th best team should not pose a problem to the world number one; especially at home in conditions conducive for swing &  seam bowling. However to dismiss an improving West Indies side before they completed a whole day’s warm up isn’t something Michael Vaughan would have done as captain. For amongst the West Indies ranks are three players with a point to prove & the talent to ram his words down his throat.

SHIVNARINE CHANDERPAUL

In a squad which boasts only five players with experience of playing Test cricket in England the chances of West Indies going past 300 in a single innings appear to rest squarely on one man’s shoulders, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

In a Test career spanning more than twenty years ‘Shiv’ has developed quite an appetite for scoring big runs against the best the English can serve up. In 31 Tests against England he averages over 50 with the bat and it rises to nearly 65 on these shores.

Incredibly this will be Chanderpaul’s SIXTH England tour the pick of which came back in 2007 when Michael Vaughan was captain. Then the Guyanese five innings were 74, 50, 116*, 136* & 70. A year later he climbed to the top of the ICC Test Championship batting rankings.

A lot can happen in five years but one thing that has remained constant is Shiv’s dedication to scoring runs. He recently became only the tenth batsmen to go past 10,000 Test runs. In doing so he also repeated what he achieved following that inspired run back in 2007. For Shivnarine Chanderpaul is officially once again the best batsman in world cricket.

KEMAR ROACH

Is there a sight in world cricket to set the pulse racing quite like a pace bowler steaming towards the wicket, a hard red cherry in hand, and a new batsman at the crease? Nothing typified the West Indies approach during their glory days than the battery of fast bowlers they employed to bludgeon opponents. And where Holding, Marshall, Garner & Ambrose once stood now stands Kemar Roach.

At five foot eight Roach is more Malcolm Marshall than Joel Garner but consistently bowls over 90mph & is fast developing as a bowler of real menace. Many point to a spell on his first overseas tour where Roach had Ricky Ponting hopping around before forcing him to retire hurt as the moment the Aussie great first showed signs of mortality.

Further proof of Roach’s great promise once again came against the Aussies last month when he became the first West Indian to take ten wickets in a match since 2005 & the first against Australia since Curtly Ambrose nineteen years ago.

DARREN BRAVO

During the 1990’s one of the greatest batsmen the game has ever seen waged war against English bowlers. As the side he marshaled began to deteriorate around him he was the Caribbean’s shining light. In smashing 375 & 400* against England, Brian Lara broke cricket records nearly as frequently as he did their hearts, minds and backs.

Fast forward to 2012 and the man who could now be king has arrived. Lara’s cousin and fellow left-hander Darren Bravo is heir to the Caribbean throne. He announced his arrival with back to back centuries in India last year, and already averages a shade under 5o in Test cricket. Alongside Chanderpaul he is the wicket the English bowlers will prize the most.

The family resemblance is never more noticeable than when Bravo is at the crease. His stance, timing, cover drive & pull shot are all straight out of the Lara textbook. While in one of those eerie coincidences that cricket statistician’s love it was noted that after their first twelve Tests Bravo & Lara had scored exactly the same amount of runs (941) & had an identical average (47.05). England and Michael Vaughan will pray the similarities end there.

If the West Indies are to pull off a heist or even just compete then they will need to rely on more than just three men and if the weather is kind then the omens are good. Captain DARREN SAMMY (whose middle names Julius Garvey suggest he was put on this earth to lead) posted his best bowling figures in England. His 7/66 in 2009 at Old Trafford included that of Michael Vaughan. Fast bowler FIDEL EDWARDS bunny is Andrew Strauss. The Barbadian has taken the England captain’s wicket five times in 12 innings and KP’s four. While recently recalled wicket-keeper DENESH RAMDIN has hit three of his eight Test fifties and his only century against England. Will any of this be enough to prove Michael Vaughan wrong? We have less than a week to wait until we find out.