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Andrew Strauss has some talking to do with his teammates heading into the crucial game in Chennai. Tom Shaw / Getty Images
Andrew Strauss has some talking to do with his teammates heading into the crucial game in Chennai. Tom Shaw / Getty Images
Andrew Strauss has some talking to do with his teammates heading into the crucial game in Chennai. Tom Shaw / Getty Images

West Indies feel it is 'a good time to play' England

Victory for the men in maroon will guarantee at least third place, and their hopes are high with Chris Gayle back and health issues for many English players.

CHENNAI // With five Test-playing nations contesting four quarter-final places, the West Indies were picked by many to slip through the Group B trapdoor.

Instead, they have strung together three successive wins to stand on the threshold of a place in the last eight. England, who arrived on the subcontinent hoping to reprise last year's successful World Twenty20 campaign, are the ones staring at oblivion, knowing that failure in Chennai means an early flight home.

Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, suggested mischievously yesterday that it might not be broken hearts all round if that happened. "It's a good time to play them," he said. "They've been on the road a long time. Maybe some of them want to go home to their families."

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Victory for the men in maroon will guarantee at least third place, and their hopes of achieving that got a big boost on the eve of the game with Chris Gayle, their destructive opening batsman, being cleared to play. In contrast, England's chances took a big hit, with Ajmal Shahzad, the skilful reverse-swing exponent and the best bowler in the loss to Bangladesh, unable to train as a result of a stomach bug.

Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann have recovered, though, and the off-spinner will be key against a West Indies line-up that has four left-handers in the top five. Against South Africa at the same venue - England sneaked home by six runs - they bowled 27 overs of spin, which makes it near certain that Michael Yardy will be recalled after sitting out the Bangladesh game.

James Anderson, desperately disappointing again in Chittagong, was on the verge of being dropped but with Shahzad now doubtful, he should keep his place. Paul Collingwood might be the one to miss out.

Having failed again at the top of the order, Matt Prior is poised for demotion, with either Ravi Bopara or Ian Bell joining Strauss against the West Indies' new-ball combination of Kemar Roach and Sulieman Benn.

Benn has been superb so far, taking 12 wickets and conceding just 4.43 runs an over. England's batsmen were insipid against Bangladesh and will again look to Eoin Morgan, one of the few unafraid to come down the pitch to spinners, to take the initiative on a slow surface.

The pitch has been under a canopy for three days to protect it from the harsh Chennai sun. Sammy has not won a toss so far, but this might just be the game where he needs to, with chasing under lights far tougher than setting a total in the afternoon.

Sammy brushed off the possibility of dew playing its part - "You just get a towel and wipe the ball" - but West Indies will give serious thought to playing Devendra Bishoo, the leg-spinner, after having seen Imran Tahir flummox the English batsmen.

They will have plenty of notes on the possible chinks to exploit in England's armour. Ottis Gibson, their coach, used to be England's bowling guru, and Sammy is confident that he and his charges could take advantage of his knowledge.

You have to go back to 1979 at Lord's for the last West Indian success against England. The two defeats to Mike Gatting's team in the 1987 World Cup signalled the start of the Caribbean decline, but it will be England that feel the pressure today.

"There are butterflies in the stomach," Strauss said. "It's not a time to go into our shells. Now's not a time to be scared."

Much has been made of England's itinerary and the months spent on the road in the build-up to this competition. For one day though, none of that will matter. "Fatigue is the last thing on our minds," Strauss said. "We know what the prize is."

With Kieron Pollard muscling two game-changing half-centuries and showing signs of finding his feet at this level, and the ever-dangerous Gayle back in the fray, we should know by 10pm if they are still in contention for that prize.

sports@thenational.ae

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