London: West Indies face England in the first of a three-Test series at Lord's on Thursday with the tourists' batting likely to determine the course of the match. Should conditions prove as seam-friendly as they have for much of the early part of the English season, West Indies' top order could struggle to provide the kind of platform that will help them improve on a record of just two wins in 30 Tests since beating England in Jamaica in 2009.
Kieran Powell made his second first-class hundred in West Indies' 10-wicket defeat by the England Lions at Northampton last week, a match where number four Darren Bravo made two fifties. However, Powell's opening partner Adrian Barath and Kirk Edwards managed just 26 runs between them at Northampton, having only compiled 16 and eight respectively in the near washout against Sussex at Hove.
Much could depend on world number one batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has performed many a rescue mission for the West Indies during a career that last month saw him become only the 10th batsman to score 10,000 Test runs. However, the 37-year-old Guyanese left-hander generally prefers to bat no higher than five in the order.
The problem with that, from the West Indies' point of view, is that too often Chanderpaul comes in with the team already in trouble. For example, during West Indies' most recent Test - a 75-run defeat by Australia in Dominica last month - Chanderpaul came in at 73 for 3 and 45 for 3. There has been talk of promoting Chanderpaul up the order, but it appears he is set to stay put - at least for the time being.
"It's something we've thought about," West Indies coach, Ottis Gibson, said. "Our batting revolves around Shiv - he's very comfortable in the position he is at the moment and he's doing a good job for us. We've decided to leave it as it is at the moment, but it's something we haven't completely ruled out."
West Indies will be without their aggressive opening batsman Chris Gayle because of his Indian Premier League commitments and the fact the former captain's lengthy stand-off with the West Indies Cricket Board only recently came to an end.
But Gibson backed his younger batsmen to come good, saying: "We know it's going to be a challenge for them - but the selectors have got a lot of confidence in them, as I have." Before taking up his current post, Gibson was England's bowling coach and so helped the likes of home duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad. But the tourists, whose three leading pacemen - Kemar Roach (ankle), Fidel Edwards (back) and Ravi Rampaul (stiff neck) - have all overcome minor injury concerns, boast some firepower of their own.
England will be keen to make a commanding start after seeing their status as the world's number one Test side diminish somewhat during a recent 3-0 defeat by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka.
"I don't think we need to prove anything," said Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper. "We've played good cricket over a number of years now. After the glitches in the winter, I know everyone is very keen and pumped up to perform from the off this summer."
An injury to Ravi Bopara could see Jonathan Bairstow, son of late England wicketkeeper David, make a Test debut at number six.
England, who have five seamers in their squad, face some awkward selection decisions and when it comes to top-order batting they too have a problem they would like to solve quickly. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, has made just one century in his last 49 Test innings but Prior said: "The one fantastic thing about Straussy is that he's just 'Mr Consistent'. He could score four hundreds in a row, four zeroes in a row, but he'll be exactly the same person."
England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Graham Onions
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Kirk Edwards, Adrian Barath, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Fidel Edwards, Assad Fudadin, Shannon Gabriel, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Ravi Rampaul, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford