They may be 22 ICC Test Ranking points apart, but the rapidly approaching first test after the Pietersen-Moores debacle will be a little more hotly contested than the stats may suggest. A year and a half ago England smashed the Windies 3-0 in a four test series in England, with Pietersen at his most belligerent of recent form and England were a unit firmly rooted by recent home successes.

In 2009 however they have come off the back of a drubbing by the more than impressive Indians, have lost their captain in a very public debacle, and, perhaps most important of all, have no idea who their next coach will be. Both Fletcher and Moores had their fair share of criticism, but each had a massive influence and character in the dressing room, something which is needed more than ever now with so many key issues to success hanging in the balance.

At the head is the furore surrounding the IPL - Kevin Pietersen was branded with one of the most expensive price tags of the tournament - £944,000 ($1.35million) - and other England stars such as Flintoff, Collingwood, Owais Shah and Samit Patel are also coveted by the Premier League in time for the Feb 6th player auction. Although the ECB have cleared players for a 3 week window for the next 2 years, players such as Shah in particular who is struggling for a test place, could boycott future England tours altogether in favour of the prosperous IPL.

In addition, there is much speculation about the starting XI in Jamaica on Wednesday, with nearly 30 players putting on English colours since the famous Ashes win in 2005. The number 3 spot might be the hardest call the selectors will have to make, a straight decision between established Ian Bell or the in-form, flamboyant Owais Shah. I know who I would pick, but have a slightly unfair bias...

Next is the bowlers, with any of Harmison, Sidebottom, Anderson or Broad fighting it out for just 2 spots; and Swann, Rashid and Panesar vying for the solitary spinner's place. Assuming of course that Flintoff can stay fit. Conditions will be testing at best, with temperatures set to soar in the Caribbean, and won't be helped coming off the back of two torturous days in the field chasing balls to all parts of the ground in St Kitts in the final warm-up match. Windies captain Gayle looks to be back in form; pace-men Edwards, Taylor and Powell quicker than ever and Shiv Chanderpaul averaging over six hours at the crease in 2008 (in fact, if you want to get him out, it's over a day - yes A DAY! - which he averages).

Andrew Strauss will have to be inducted to England captaincy very quickly if England are to get anything out of this series, with him needing his key men to show up - he and Cook will have to carry on their successful opening partnership, the bowlers have to get their lengths right (especially Harmison who was so fearsome three years ago on the last Caribbean tour) and Pietersen must prove to everyone why he deserves that million dollar price tag by "getting back to what he does best - scoring runs for England." It won't be easy...but I have no doubt the cricket will spark many more debates, let's just hope they are positive ones...

 

Can England endure the heat in the West Indies?