Joel Garner has warned England not to underestimate the challenge West Indies pose in the forthcoming Test series, saying anyone who writes off the tourists does so “at their peril”.
West Indies, ranked No. 8 in the world, last beat England in a Test series in 2009 and have not won against another top-eight side since a 2-0 victory over New Zealand in 2012. Since the 1990s, their only successes away from home have been against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. They did hold England to a 1-1 draw in the Caribbean two years ago, however, inspired in part by comments from the ECB chairman, Colin Graves, referring to them as “mediocre“.
With West Indies arriving under the cover of England’s series with South Africa, they have found some form in warm-up matches against Essex, Kent and Derbyshire, and Garner, the team manager, said they had prepared well for the first Investec Test, starting at Edgbaston on Thursday. The fact it is England’s first day-night Test, and West Indies’ second, could also play to their advantage.
“It’s going to be some interesting times,” Garner said. “I think people are writing the West Indies off too early and it could be at their own peril. Cricket is played in the middle at the end of the day.
“Not many people are giving us a lot of hope. What is good is that we came in whilst England were playing South Africa. We got on with the job very quietly. I think the fellas have got talent. It’s who makes the greatest adjustment in the day-night game. I think that games between England and the West Indies are competitive. I wouldn’t completely write them off.”
The recent rapprochement between Cricket West Indies and a number of senior players did not come in time for them to be considered for the England tour and Garner was unsure how many would be interested in returning to Test cricket. But the squad has been strengthened by the comeback of Kemar Roach, the most experienced member of an attack not short of pace.
“It is what it is,” Garner said of the selection. “I think that the players have made a decision they want to play a shorter version of the game. There is an amnesty between the board and the players, relating to the players being available. We will welcome them back because they are our better players but at the present moment we are here to play cricket. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got and try to get the best results out of it. I think that’s as fair as it can be.
“The senior players who are away, they will have to make their mind up about whether they want to come back and play the longer version of the game. What we have now is that Roach is back after a year or so away from cricket. We also have [Shannon] Gabriel, who was injured. He’s been working to get his rhythm back and there’s the captain, [Jason] Holder.”
Stuart Law, West Indies’ coach, has only been in the job for a few months but Garner said he had begun to push the players to be better prepared physically for the rigours of the international game.
“I would say, you can call it criticism if you like, that attitudes have changed somewhat towards training and preparation. I go back to the way of ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’. Most of what has been happening has been over preparation. People might not want to train the way that they should train or might not prepare the way that they should prepare.
“Some of our players have become accustomed to the CPL [Caribbean Premier League] way of doing things but with the absence of the amount of cricket we’ve played before, you still have to put in the work that you get to the standard that is required. We’ve got to be prepared to work hard to get the results and make some sacrifices.
“The push is coming from the physicals, players being encouraged to train harder and get fitter. We’ve always had players with some ability, great players, with style and flair – but I think the lack of preparation at the top could have been part of the problem.”
Garner also admitted that the clash between the Test leg of West Indies’ tour and the ongoing CPL was less than ideal. “That is the biggest challenge because that is where most of the money is being aimed at,” he said. “It’s where the fellas can afford to make their money in the one-day and CPL … I think you have to work around it and get the tours organised in such a way there’s no competition from the shorter version of the game because most of the players look forward to playing the shorter version.”