There has been a crackle of excitement in Barbados this week, augmented by the news that Saqib Mahmood will make a highly anticipated debut for the visitors when the second Test against West Indies gets under way on Wednesday.
England have travelled here more than anywhere else in the Caribbean over the past 20 years, enjoying its white-powdered beaches and easygoing vibe, and with 10,000 tourists on the island – plus the lifting of restrictions allowing a full house at Kensington Oval – Joe Root’s side should feel very lucky to be here.
Not that all this helped three years ago when Jason Holder’s double century, a stirring display of fast bowling led by Kemar Roach and Roston Chase’s transmogrification into Lance Gibbs whipped the outnumbered locals in the Greenidge and Haynes Stand into a frenzy with a 381-run win from which a 2-1 series victory followed.
Both sides were beaten by the pitch in Antigua last week and remain at 0-0. But here, having placed his hand on a bare surface in the search for clues, Root wondered whether more carry is likely and perhaps more deterioration.
Jack Leach will note that this is where Jomel Warrican picks up wickets at 25 runs apiece for Barbados, even if his fellow left-armer, Veerasammy Permaul, is the incumbent West Indies spinner.
England have espoused a new era dawning on tour but with one win in their last 15 Tests, a change in the narrative still hinges on positive results not just positive declarations. The path to 20 wickets is complicated by Mark Wood’s elbow injury, the knock-on being Mahmood’s elevation – cap number 702 for England – and no Ollie Robinson amid caution over the back spasms that ruled him out last week.
The way Root spoke about Mahmood before naming the XI on Tuesday already hinted at Saqib getting a go. Lancashire’s 25-year-old right-armer has just one first-class five-wicket haul to date but, with this coming through a fine burst of reverse swing during last year’s Roses match at Old Trafford, before a starring role in last summer’s ODI series against Pakistan, the excitement here is understandable.
“He’s very mature for a guy who hasn’t played a huge amount of international cricket,” said Root. “He’s been very impressive, he’s got a slightly different trajectory and will give us a point of difference. Clearly he has good control, especially if the ball moves with reverse swing. It’s a great option to have up our sleeve.”
In some ways Mahmood had to play here if the benefits of leaving Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad at home are to be truly felt. Robinson’s absence will continue the question mark over his conditioning for the rigours of Test cricket, the issue first flaring up in Hobart in January and leaving England a bowler down. The resulting reticence now means another chance for Chris Woakes and Craig Overton.
Woakes is the father of the house in this squad aged 33 and plenty has been asked of him by England this winter. There is an abundance of goodwill behind a hard-working and unpretentious cricketer who excels at home but struggles away; perhaps inspiration during this latest chance will come from the surroundings at the Kensington Oval.
This can certainly be found at every turn when players gambol down the stairs of the beautiful art deco Garfield Sobers pavilion that sits in the corner of the ground and looks like the bridge of one of cruise ships in Bridgetown harbour. West Indies may well be unchanged and, if conditions allow, a fine spectacle is in the offing.