In the short history of day-night Test cricket, the opportunity for pioneers of the game to finally host one themselves has arrived. At Edgbaston in Birmingham, hosts England, along with the visitors West Indies, will step out to contest in only the fifth ever day-night Test. The pink ball is being prepared to be mastered; the floodlights will be decorating the ground once the night session begins; and a full house is ready to throng the ground on the rare occasion.
Before England head to Australia for the Ashes during the winter – the tour includes a day-night Test as well – their final lap comes against not-as-strong, though an equally spirited, West Indies outfit.
Five players whose presence – and performance – can have a huge bearing on the outcome of the series are presented.
#5 Dawid Malan
Drafted into the team for The Oval Test against South Africa alongside Tom Westley as a replacement for the injured Gary Balance and the discarded Liam Dawson, Middlesex’s Malan has so far found life difficult after stepping up the ladder and into the demands of top-flight cricket.
Though he started brightly – and expectedly so – after being rated highly in white-ball cricket, in the T20 against South Africa at Cardiff with a hurried 78, Malan was reduced to nothing when an alarming yorker at the intimidating pace of Kagiso Rabada shattered his stumps in his maiden international Test innings.
Scores of 1, 10, 18 and 6 in four outings thus far have surely disappointed admirers of a man possessing immense skill. Malan never seemed to have settled while facing the hasty pace and accuracy of Rabada, Morne Morkel and others, being sent back by a different bowler each time he went out to bat.
Failure in this series would all but put the seal on his exit from the national team with the form and fitness of Ballance, and the emergence of youngsters Rory Burns, Alex Davies and his county mate Stevie Eskinazi.
#4 Kemar Roach
Hailing from a land brimming full of ferocious fast bowlers, Roach rose and fell in international cricket before finding his feet again during the Professional Cricket League season of 2016-17. Having last featured during the rained-out Sydney Test in 2016, Roach was dropped for the home series against India six months later as he encountered inconsistency and a dip in form.
Once renowned for his rapid pace – he even hurt Ricky Ponting’s elbow with it at Perth in 2009 – Roach lost his venom when an ankle injury against South Africa during the Centurion Test in 2014 stalled his rise.
Now a touch slower, though West Indies’ coach Stuart Law still calls him “fast enough to cause problems”, a comeback into the Test side on the back of majestic form in domestic cricket allows Roach with the perfect opportunity to announce his value to the side.
With 23 wickets at 16.17 in first-class cricket this season, a flimsy England top order containing a debutant will make Roach lick his lips and sniff further glory on pitches tailor-made for swing and seam; and a haul of 5/43 against Essex in West Indies’ first practice match on the tour should act as a major strengthening factor so far as Roach’s dwindling confidence is concerned.
#3 Mark Stoneman
Confirmed as Alastair Cook’s 12 opening partner since the departure of Andrew Strauss in 2012, Stoneman is set to become the eighth debutant in a day-night Test. Long termed as an alternative for Keaton Jennings, a move to Surrey from Durham post the conclusion of the County Championship last year has brought along its share of awareness among the cricket watching public in the country.
The second-highest run-getter so far into the domestic season, Stoneman’s selection was long due with Jennings’ flaws in foot movement and fragilities outside off-stump exposed by the pace battery of South Africa, and the next biggest challenger, Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameed, losing his healing touch in first-class cricket this year.
Stoneman, aged 30, is burning full of desire to wear his country’s whites, and a relatively modest bowling attack of the West Indies might help in easing down nerves which he would have accumulated since the phone call of the national selector James Whitaker.
Commencing an international career at that age makes him the oldest frontline batsman chosen by England this millennium, but Stoneman remains determined to gratify Whitaker and company with substantial runs before England catch the flight for the all-important Ashes later in the year. A left-hander with a respected technique, early progress for Stoneman at the biggest stage can act as a huge boost to book his place in the squad for Australia this winter.
#2 Roston Chase
The latest find among a bunch of passionate, young cricketers from the Caribbean, Chase has found considerable success in a career still in its nascent stages. Amidst the absence of the more recognised players from the squad, Chase has started off admirably at number six in the batting order besides notably contributing with his off-spin.
An orthodox technique and a clean footwork has brought three hundreds in ten matches in the longer format already, one of which was a valiant effort to save the game against India at Sabina Park in 2016.
That was a match which also included a first five-wicket haul by Chase, as he replicated three of his countrymen, including the great Sir Garfield Sobers, in scoring a hundred as well as picking up five scalps in an innings in the same Test.
Twin centuries against the visiting Pakistan team comprising the likes of Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah this year cemented his spot in the team – he got 403 runs at an average of 100.75 – and a warning to the opposition bowlers was laid out in the form of some helpful match practice for this series when Chase hit 81 and 50* against Sussex before following that up with 110* and 60* against Derbyshire.
#1 Chris Woakes
An all-rounder of tremendous potential, Woakes returns to the England squad after sitting out of his team’s final two group games to go with the semi-final of the Champions Trophy, and the entire Test series against South Africa.
Having endured an agonising side strain against Bangladesh in England’s first match of the marquee tournament, Woakes remained out of contention as first Jake Ball, who himself got injured, then Mark Wood, another bowling casualty and now Toby Roland-Jones, who started his Test career with a five-for, threatened to occupy his place in the Test side.
Following a glorious 2016 which finally saw him build a long pending reputation across both formats, Woakes was destined for bigger things before injury struck. But another opportunity – though it comes amid high competition with Roland-Jones – has put the spotlight back on the Warwickshire lad.
A half-century and five wickets against Middlesex proved enough to show his fitness and earn him a recall into the national side, and if and when Woakes gets his chance to showcase his abilities, his sharp swinging deliveries and useful lower-order runs will come in handy for the hosts.