Selection issues have dominated the buildup to the start of the third Test at Edgbaston.
Birmingham: Selection issues are dominating the buildup to the start of the third Test at Edgbaston on Thursday, with West Indies still declining to pick its best player and England's selectors now unwilling to choose one of theirs. Both sides will be understrength at Birmingham with England leading 2-0 in the three-Test series, although the hosts' decision to rest swing bowler James Anderson — against his will — contrasts with West Indies' failure to select batsman Chris Gayle.
Gayle could play his first international in 14 months, since last year's World Cup, after being picked in West Indies' one-day squad late on Monday to play England. But the big-hitting Jamaican remains out of favor in the five-day format.
Meanwhile, England chairman of selectors Geoff Miller says Anderson has a quad problem among "several" minor injuries, however the bowler has made it abundantly clear he wants to play. "James Anderson will miss this Test as we look to manage his workload ahead of a busy period of cricket this summer and beyond," Miller said.
England is also due to play West Indies in three ODIs and a Twenty20 match, followed by five ODIs against Australia, then three Tests, three ODIs and three Twenty20 games versus South Africa this summer. But Anderson wrote in his column for The Mail on Sunday that he wants to play in Edgbaston.
"It would be different if I felt fatigued or was struggling with an injury," he wrote. "But I believe I am fit to play and while I am fit to play I want to play in every England game I can." England's selectors are concerned by Anderson's workload, pointing out that the team plays 15 Tests this year.
Anderson's worry is that, at a time when England's bowling resources are as deep as they have been for a generation, he may not get back in the team. "Nobody would volunteer to be left out of this side," he said. "Who knows what may happen in the future with injury or loss of form. This is a great team to be involved in. I think it would be hard to take if I was rested and lost my place."
Anderson has every reason to feel worried. Chris Tremlett's recovery from back surgery means England could plausibly field a second-choice bowling quartet of Steven Finn, Graham Onions, Tremlett and Monty Panesar, all of whom would are proven Test performers.
Finn and Onions are reportedly vying for Anderson's place for the third Test. Finn has the better Test record, with 53 wickets at an average of 26.9, compared to Onions' 28 wickets at an average of 31. But Onions is in better form, having taken 6-52 for Durham against Leicestershire in the last round of county championship games. He also dismissed Andrew Strauss twice — for 0 and 6 — when the England captain was playing for Middlesex earlier this season.
Another option would be to pick both, leave out a batsman — which on form would likely be Jonny Bairstow — and rely on Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad for lower order runs. For West Indies, pacemen Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel are out injured but the possible inclusion of finger spinner Sunil Narine is widely anticipated after his successful spell in the Indian Premier League.
"I think it's his first time playing international cricket in England," West Indies coach Ottis Gibson said. "There's a disadvantage playing for the first time in these conditions but it's also an advantage because the opposition haven't seen him yet."
Narine's first-class average in four-day domestic cricket is an impressive 11.88. If that is slightly undermined by the fact he's only played six games, then he was also the most economical bowler and had the best average in the IPL this season during his spell with Kolkata Knight Riders.
Yet what West Indies urgently need is a top-order batsman who can score runs. The final tour match against Leicestershire, which Gibson hoped would offer his batsman time in the middle, was abandoned as a draw on Sunday because of rain after just 50 overs.
In that time, Kirk Edwards made a three-ball duck and Kieran Powell was dismissed for 9, though there was some encouragement for Adrian Barath, who was unbeaten on 53 and Darren Bravo, who made 66.
"Most of us are not accustomed to these conditions," Bravo said. "But it is important for us to believe in ourselves and our ability. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and improve as quickly as possible, and I believe we are learning each and every single day."
That improvement is likely to come too late for Edgbaston, however, with anything other than a convincing England win will be a surprise.