England will hope the return of captain Joe Root proves inspirational in the second Test against the West Indies at Old Trafford starting Thursday.
Star batsman Root missed England’s four-wicket defeat at Southampton in international cricket’s return from lockdown last week after attending the birth of his second child.
He has now rejoined the squad, with the West Indies needing just one win from the two remaining Tests at Old Trafford to clinch a first series win in England for 32 years.
Although all three fixtures are being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus outbreak, Root, returning to lead England after all-rounder Ben Stokes took temporary charge, will be in a familiar position.
England have now lost the opening match of a series for the eighth time in 10 campaigns.
Most recently in South Africa they recovered from a heavy defeat in the first Test to win that series 3-1.
“It’s quite frustrating,” said Root of England’s slow starts on Wednesday.
“The pleasing thing is there’s been times when that’s been the case and we’ve still come out and won the series. That’s the challenge now.”
Joe Denly has made way for Root after he was twice out cheaply at Southampton to leave him with a modest average of 29.53 from 15 Tests.
“Joe is someone who has done a fantastic job for us over a period of time and he’ll be as frustrated as anyone that he’s not been able to covert those opportunities,” added Root.
Meanwhile, England are set to recall Stuart Broad after he missed a first home Test in eight years when left out at Southampton — a move that prompted the veteran seamer to describe himself as “gutted and angry”.
Broad is second only to James Anderson in England’s all-time list of Test wicket-takers.
But he won’t be alongside his longtime new-ball colleague, with Anderson rested along with Durham fast bowler Mark Wood, who also played the opening Test.
Chris Woakes could come into the side in Wood’s absence.
England have added left-armer Sam Curran and the uncapped Ollie Robinson to a pace attack still featuring Jofra Archer as they make good on a promise to rotate their quicks amid a gruelling schedule of six Tests in seven weeks, including three against Pakistan.
‘Think outside the box’
“With Stuart and Jimmy, trying to maximise their careers is really important to make sure they are playing for as long as possible,” said Root.
“If that has to be slightly different to how it has been over the last few years then we might have to think outside the box and not play them in every game or not play them together all the time.”
Wicketkeeper Jos Buttler has been retained despite dropping Jermaine Blackwood early in the West Indies batsman’s match-clinching innings of 95 at Southampton and averaging just 23.22 in Tests since the start of 2019.
But Root, encouraged by Buttler’s first-innings 35, said his fellow World Cup-winner was close to cracking Test cricket.
“It’s just a matter of time before we see some of those special innings we’ve seen in white-ball cricket,” he insisted.
West Indies are now on the brink of their first away Test series win against major opposition since 1994/95.
But captain Jason Holder, the world’s top-ranked Test all-rounder, said there was no danger of his side getting carried away.
“Winning the first Test match is just one piece of the puzzle,” explained Holder, who took a Test-best 6-42 last week.
“We’ve got two other games to play and we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”