Spoilt for choice with the bat but stretched as regards the bowling, is how Eoin Morgan described his England side on the eve of the one-day series with West Indies that gets under way in Antigua on Friday .
On paper, Morgan’s men are clear favourites against the ninth-ranked team in the world, with the captain admitting that if they produce their best a 3-0 whitewash is a realistic target. But this was not to say they are the complete team at present, especially coming off the back of one-day and Twenty20 defeats in India.
While the latter concluded with an extraordinary collapse of eight for eight in 19 balls in Bangalore, it was the 50-over leg of the tour that proved most informative about the current strengths and weaknesses in the side.
England have a lineup that can post monster scores of more than 350, having done so seven times since the last World Cup, and even when Joe Root gave them an injury scare in twisting his ankle during a fielding drill on Thursday, only to later pull up fine, it would have simply seen the form-rich Jonny Bairstow step into the breach.
It is with the ball, however, where England are still searching for the wicket‑taking prowess that has become mandatory to rein in the thunderbats of the modern game.
The seam attack, which sees Steven Finn return for a first cap in a year with Jake Ball still struggling with a knee problem, is a very samey complement of right‑arm fast mediums. Morgan was keen to point to the injuries that have denied him the services of David Willey and Reece Topley, as well as the raw pace of Mark Wood.
Since the last World Cup the leg‑spinner Adil Rashid has been Morgan’s go-to wicket-taker in the middle overs – just two bowlers in world cricket have claimed more than his 48 victims since the last World Cup – yet in India he was given just one match in the 50-over series, with his five overs hammered for 50 runs.
The England captain insisted Rashid remains his No1, however, and was optimistic that the surfaces in Antigua and Barbados, and the 9.30am starts, will offer more than those in India that saw his bowlers ship more than 1,000 runs in three innings. The challenge, he said, would instead flip back over to his aggressive batsmen.
“Our principles as a side will remain the same,” Morgan said. “We want to put the opposition under pressure the whole time. But the emphasis here will be getting two ‘in-men’ at the crease.
“That’s very important because the pitches we’re anticipating playing on, you can lose wickets in clusters and having two in-men taking advantage of their position is going to be key. That doesn’t mean to say we still can’t score 350 or 300. But certainly it won’t be as free-flowing as it has been.”
While Morgan said the series was about returning to winning ways before the Champions Trophy at home, the task at hand for West Indies, who miss out on the tournament, is cracking the top eight in the world rankings before 30 September this year, the cut-off point for automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup.
Only a 3-0 win here would change their lowly position immediately, something that seems a challenge as enormous as their 6ft 7in captain Jason Holder, given his side have won just four of their 17 games so far in the four-year cycle and last emerged as series victors in 2014 at home to Bangladesh.
The absence of all but Carlos Brathwaite from last year’s World Twenty20-winning side has much been discussed in the lead up to the series – “It’s gone. We’ve celebrated that. It’s important to move on,” insisted Holder – and in place of the big names is a group picked from the recently concluded Regional Super 50.
Kieran Powell, who top-scored in that tournament, returns to open after a three-year absence during which he attempted a professional baseball career in the United States, alongside Kraigg Brathwaite, while Shai Hope, a wicketkeeper-batsman, is fresh from back-to-back centuries as part of the Barbados team that won the title.
Evin Lewis is a big-hitting left-hander and the all-rounder Holder, who lifted the trophy, is himself in good touch with the bat and ball. But the nagging sense is that, unless the surfaces turn events into a low‑scoring scrap, England’s superior power and experience should give the travelling supporters – expected to outnumber the locals – more to cheer about.