Key selection questions for West Indies ahead of the first Test

Joshua Da Silva in action Getty Images

Even before they departed the Caribbean, West Indies' players and management have maintained a confident outlook about the three-match Test series against England which begins on Wednesday in Southampton. They currently hold the Wisden Trophy after their 2-1 win in 2019 at home, and West Indies believe they can repeat the feat of Viv Richards' team in 1988 - the last West Indies team to win a series in England. England have rarely lost at home in the recent past - the last team to get the better of them over a full series were Sri Lanka in 2014.

Before they take the field, West Indies need to sort out some key questions about their XI.

The case for Chase

The bowling workload, especially for fast bowlers will be a key factor for both teams throughout the Test series, considering the players have been forced to gather full intensity in a matter of few weeks. The fast tracking of Shannon Gabriel from the reserves to first squad is a clear indication that West Indies are more than likely to field a four-man pace attack with Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Holder completing the quartet.

West Indies would have noticed the slow nature of the Southampton pitch during England's warm-up match last week, with spin playing a significant role. Rahkeem Cornwall should fancy playing his first Test in England considering bounce is his main weapon and that could prove to be decisive towards the latter part of the Test.

The last Test West Indies played was last November, in India, against Afghanistan. There are two missing names from that match: Shimron Hetmyer and Jomel Warrican. Their places have been taken by Gabriel and Joseph. Roston Chase, too, played against Afghanistan. Although Chase failed to impress during his last trip of England in 2017, he has the most Test centuries in this West Indies squad. The last of those came against England, in 2019. Chase now wants to return home with at least one Test century. Chase bowls handy offspin, as England realised in Barbados last year when he picked an eight-for.

Do West Indies then play both Chase and Cornwall?

Or should they include a specialist batsmen in Jermaine Blackwood, who was the top scorer in the West Indies Championships (domestic four-day competition)? Roger Harper, the West Indies chairman of selectors had praised Blackwood, saying the Jamaican had made his case by the "sheer weight of performance".

Blackwood, whose solitary Test century came against England in 2015, said he is "more focused, more determined". But can Blackwood, an aggressive batsman naturally, curb his penchant for strokes? In the four innings in the two warm-up matches in the last month, Blackwood's top score was 43. With Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope searching for form and Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer unavailable, West Indies are desperately looking for solidity in their batting. Does Blackwood inspire confidence in the team management to give him another opportunity?

What about Joshua da Silva?

Da Silva, only 22, announced his readiness for a debut Test cap with century as an opener followed by a half-century in the middle-order during the intra-squad warm-up match at Old Trafford last week. With Shane Dowrich the regular keeper sitting out of the match due to a side strain, da Silva staked a claim for the keeper-basman slot if it was up for grabs. The management has indicated that Dowrich is fit to play, which could reduce da Silva's chances. Unless, of course, he is thought of as a specialist batsman and as an option over Blackwood.

And Raymond Reifer?

Reifer, the medium-pace allrounder bagged a five-for in the first warm-up in Old Trafford in June and showed patience as a batsman in the lower order. With Holder bowling just five overs so far on the tour, due an ankle niggle, can West Indies afford to field a fifth fast bowler? The slow nature of the pitch in Southampton could stand against Reifer unless the conditions favour seam bowling. Also, playing five fast bowlers increases the burden on the batting, which both Holder and head coach Phil Simmons agree is the weakness for the visitors.