It was less humid than Sri Lanka, but it was still the tropics, and hot, and the time of day when only Englishmen go outside. Yet after all the other players had finished training, Jos Buttler flogged himself up and down, up and down, a steep flight of steps at the 3 W’s Oval.
England’s most important year begins on Tuesday with their first two-day warm-up against a President’s XI. Only once before, in 1975, have England played a World Cup and an Ashes series at home – and they were not expected to win either. This time they are, and if Buttler keeps advancing they will at least come close.
Buttler had already engaged in a long training session with England’s wicketkeeping coach Bruce French, Ben Foakes (the incumbent) and Jonny Bairstow, who does not want to be ruled out of returning to the role. They all concentrated on standing up to the stumps and catching balls which turned a long way, because the pitch for the first two-day game is not going to be one of those traditional West Indian pitches of unblemished sheen. In fact, no pitch had been marked out before England left for an afternoon swim, let alone rolled and polished.
So these four days of match practice are more likely to be an extension of England’s tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas than the start of an old-time West Indian tour. The state of the infrastructure is such that England’s opening batsman Keaton Jennings – who has shaved his head for charity – called the nets “interesting”; and in the first-class match on this ground last month between Barbados and Jamaica, the home side’s left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican took 12 wickets for 116 runs. Jamaica, chasing 107, were dismissed for 65.
All three of England’s spinners therefore will hope to play in what has been advertised as a 12-a-side game and which, on an underprepared surface, might also turn out to be two innings per side. Kensington Oval, however, the venue for the first Test starting on Jan 23, supplied a good wicket for its only first-class match there this season, so England then can be expected to play Moeen Ali with either Adil Rashid or Jack Leach.