Joe Root expects England to adapt quickly to 'challenges' of inaugural day-night Test against West Indies
The novelty factor of a first day-night Test match in the UK has provided some much-needed interest at the start of a series that England are expected to win easily against underwhelming opposition in the West Indies.
The hosts, still buoyed by their recent 3-1 series win against South Africa, have plenty to ponder ahead of this winter’s Ashes series in Australia, with the opening position now in debutant Mark Stoneman’s possession and numbers three and five in the order top of their priority list.
There is still a series to be won, though, and captain Joe Root is hopeful of making a positive start even if the change in routine to pink-ball cricket has complicated matters ahead of this opening Test at Edgbaston.
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“I am expecting it to be tough, as Test cricket always is,” said Root. “Obviously, there are different challenges and it might throw up a different rhythm to the game in terms of how it all pans out. But I do think it is important not to look too far in it and have too many theories going into it and that we react to what is thrown in front of us and make sure that if things do start to happen that are different from normal we respond to that quickly and win those sessions.”
England named their XI on the eve of this match, with Stoneman, in for the dropped Keaton Jennings, the only change from the team that won the final two Tests against South Africa.
That means no recall for Chris Woakes, the Warwickshire all-rounder who is fit again after overcoming a side strain sustained during the Champions Trophy earlier this summer, or the uncapped leg-spinner Mason Crane.
Both will be expected to be seen at some point during the final two Tests at Headingley and Lord’s.
West Indies, who have won one Test in England since the turn of the century and have lost their past five Test series, will not cause Root or his players too much lost sleep.
But what about the timings of this opening Test, with play able to go up to 10pm if bad weather intervenes and players probably not heading to bed until gone midnight after warm downs, media commitments and travel back to the team hotel have been completed?
It often takes players time to calm down from the buzz of a floodlit one-day international, with the fact there is a free day afterwards mitigating the problems that may throw up.
In Tests, though, there is no let up.
“This is one of the different challenges this format presents,” said Root. “We’re all adults and everyone has their own way of preparing for games and this will be no different. It will obviously be slightly different in terms of when you go to sleep but make sure you get yourself ready and turn up ready to be at your best. It is really important we get off to a strong start.”
Opener Mark Stoneman is set for his Test debut (Getty Images)
It’s also important Stoneman gets off to a strong start as well after finally earning his chance following a string season for Surrey that has seen him score more than 1,000 first-class runs at an average of 58.
At 30, Stoneman is the oldest batsman to make his England Test debut this century. He is also the 12th opening partner for former captain Alastair Cook since the retirement of Andrew Strauss back in 2012.
“The guys who have had that opportunity haven’t quite managed to nail a spot down but this is a great chance for Mark to do that,” said Root. “It’s a huge opportunity for him to show everyone how good a player he is.”
There are opportunities, too, for Tom Westley at three and Dawid Malan at five to press their claims for an Ashes spot this winter.
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Westley has made decent progress so far, the Essex batsman scoring a half-century in his debut Test at The Oval last month. Yet Malan, who has also only played two Tests, has failed in all four innings so far and needs runs to justify his place.
The West Indies should at least provide plenty of opportunities to do that.
Root is aware his team are expected to win this series easily. Yet he is not prepared to take them lightly.
“We’re very confident, but we don’t expect anything,” he said. “You can go in as favourites or massive underdogs, but at the end of the day it’s all about how you approach each session.”
England lost their last Test against the West Indies in Barbados two years ago, a result that saw Peter Moores sacked as coach after a 1-1 series draw against opposition England & Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves had described as “mediocre”.
It’s an experience Root has not forgotten. “You always learn from tough experiences, and I think that was one,” he said.
“Credit has to go to West Indies on that occasion. They out-played us. And that’s a clear indication of what they’re capable of. We have to make sure that at no time we lower our standards or intensity.”