West Indies sit one win away from turning a commendable tour of England into a historic one and their captain, Jason Holder, appears minded to stick with the majority of the players who have got them to this point.
Defeat in the second Test left the series locked at 1-1 going into Friday’s decider and threw up a number of questions for the tourists. Was their seam attack heavy legged after back-to-back games? Does their wicketkeeper, Shane Dowrich, need replacing? And how do they address the funk that Shai Hope finds himself in?
As regards the latter, it is not straightforward. Rewind three years and Hope appeared destined for a long and fruitful Test career. Twin centuries in Leeds sealed a famous underdog victory and the following April the Bajan right-hander was named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.
Since that heady Headingley performance, however, Hope’s form in Test cricket has rather disintegrated, with only four half-centuries in 39 innings and scores of 25 and seven at Old Trafford sitting in contrast to an average of 52 in the ODI game.
Phil Simmons, the head coach, admitted to concerns about the 26-year-old afterwards but Holder, aiming to become the first West Indies captain to seal a series win in England since Viv Richards in 1988, is keeping the faith.
“All our players have got my full backing,” said Holder. “I’m 100% behind Shai, we all know what Shai can produce, he’s done it before in Test cricket. I’ve got full confidence in Shai to get some runs. He has got starts so far in this series so he’s not far off from converting the start into something really special for us, so he’s got my full support.”
The issue here, perhaps, is what lies beneath. With Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo sitting out the tour, Nkrumah Bonner is the spare middle-order batsmen in the 15-man squad but while the 31-year-old Jamaican enjoyed strong returns during the most recent Caribbean season, his career average in first-class cricket is 27.
West Indies do have Joshua Da Silva among their reserves, a young Trinidadian wicketkeeper-batsman who opened in their second warmup match and made unbeaten scores of 133 and 56, but Holder confirmed they will not be adding such players to the main squad for the third Test unless a late injury occurs.
This points to reprieves for the opener John Campbell and Dowrich behind the stumps – two spots Da Silva might have been considered for – and both must capitalise. Campbell is yet to fire up top and crucially dropped Ben Stokes on the final day of the second Test, while Dowrich faced eight balls for a pair in the match.
Dowrich, who chiselled out 61 during the win in Southampton, is a trusted lieutenant to Holder and, given his role with the gloves, will likely be asked his opinion of which bowlers should play in what appears the main decision for the tourists.
Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach must be honest about their physical conditions – the former after looking fatigued during a wicketless second Test – while the management must decide if Alzarri Joseph also needs a breather and, if so, whether to draft in another seamer or plump for Rahkeem Cornwall’s off-spin.
Holder was giving little away and said it may well hinge on conditions. But as regards Cornwall, the Antiguan who takes his first-class wickets at 23 runs apiece, he is clearly a fan. “I think he is a quality off-spinner and no doubt to me he would be the best spinner in this series. But not only that he brings a bit more with slip catching and batting as well.”
He went on to stress spirits are high and his players are aware of the opportunity. Soon we will find out whether this team, one that has retained the backing of their captain despite their recent setback, is good enough to take it.