London: The West Indies cricket team touched down here on Wednesday for their three-Test tour against the world's No.1 side, with English newspapers already launching their usual assault on the tourists.
The inexperienced 15-man squad, led by Darren Sammy, has come under fire with the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail critical of the team composition and its chances in what will be testing weather conditions.
Writing in the Telegraph, noted cricket correspondent Scyld Berry said that he expected precious little of the team especially with talismanic opener Chris Gayle missing, and described the young West Indies players as "waifs and strays".
. "In Gayle's absence, waifs and strays have been thrown in the deep end and, without anyone to learn from, drowned. A youngster plays a few decent shots in a first-class game: right, he is opening the Test batting. Gayle has not represented West Indies for more than a year because of the most ludicrous spat over a public utterance," Berry wrote
"The senior member of West Indies' top three against Australia, Adrian Barath, averages 23 in Tests; of the other two, one has scored one first-class century and the other two." He continued: "Starting off on the wrong foot, West Indies are fated to remain there in England. Top-order batsmen who do not know how to build an innings, which ball to leave and which to play, will be pitted against James Anderson and Stuart Broad in May. Put it this way: Shivnarine Chanderpaul should have plenty to salvage."
Berry also ripped into Sammy, contending the all-rounder did not merit a place in the side and was therefore creating an imbalance in the bowling attack. "[Sammy] is a fine man and brilliant fielder, always cheerful, even in defeat, and a useful hitter. But he is not worth his place in their Test side," Berry said.
"West Indies would have a fine pace attack if it consisted of Kemar Roach, as quick as anyone in the world today; Fidel Edwards, quick too if not economical; and Andre Russell, who has serious pace and all-round potential. But Sammy keeps Russell out of the Test side."
He continued: "In his 16 Tests as captain, Sammy has taken 37 wickets with medium-pace: fine for a fourth seamer, batting at No.6 and making the occasional century. As a third seamer, he is not penetrative enough, and he has scored two fifties, one against Bangladesh. He has stopped West Indies getting worse, and he stops them getting better."
In the Daily Mail, writer Lawrence Booth was equally critical, describing the side as "purporting to represent the best West Indies has to offer". Booth pointed out that with Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo unavailable for the series because of Indian Premier League and county commitments, the squad was severely weakened. He said their absence summed up the game in the Caribbean.
"These men provide their own reflection of the state of the game in the Caribbean: a world in which communication is poor, administrators are at each other's throats, and funds are so scarce that talented cricketers are forced to place faceless franchises ahead of regional prestige," said Booth.
He pointed out that if West Indies selectors performed an about turn and included the IPL-based players, the regional side would be "strong enough to give England at least a scare".
"Instead, we will have to make do with a watered-down approximation of the real thing. And that is a source of regret, not just for the Caribbean, but for everyone who cares about cricket."
West Indies begin their tour with a three-day match against Sussex at Hove Saturday.