Questions for England: Stick with three spinners? Stuart Broad or Sam Curran?
England return to Sky Sports for three-Test series against Windies, starting in Barbados on Wednesday, January 23
Last Updated: 11/01/19 11:46am
After sweeping Sri Lanka, England will now be hoping to whitewash Windies in their final Test series ahead of next summer's Ashes.
A lot went right for England pre-Christmas with spinners coming to the fore and the emergence of Ben Foakes - but what will they have to ponder in the Caribbean ahead of the series opener in Barbados on January 23?
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England begin an immense year of cricket - featuring the World Cup and Ashes - by tackling Windies...
Stick with triple spin?
England's success in Sri Lanka came largely due to the performance of their spinners, with Jack Leach (18), Moeen Ali (18) and Adil Rashid (12) taking a combined 48 wickets in a series in which 100 wickets fell to turn.
Pitches in the Caribbean do not carry the fire and brimstone of the Joel Garner et al era, with Bangladesh's Mehidy Hasan and Shakib Al Hasan and Pakistan's Yasir Shah among the spinners to have fared well there in recent series, but England would appear unlikely go in with each of Leach, Ali and Rashid in the Tests in Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia.
Ali's superior batting skills - albeit ones which did not come to the fore in Sri Lanka as he scored just 79 runs in six innings from various spots in the order - could give him the edge, while if there is not too much turn on offer then Rashid, who gives the ball the biggest rip out of the England spinners, may be a real asset. Leach, for all his success in his debut Test series, including taking the whitewash-sealing wicket, could be vulnerable.
Is it a case of six into four?
The emergence of Ben Foakes as wicketkeeper-batsman has boosted England's player pool but also caused a few selection headaches. The Surrey star looks locked in to play, with Jonny Bairstow - the man who formerly held the gloves and who hit a century in his debut game at No 3 - Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler filling the spots above him.
It's difficult to see how England can get all their bowlers into the XI unless they drop a big name or one of Keaton Jennings or Rory Burns from the opening position. The latter would result in yet another tweak to the batting order - Sky Sports Cricket expert Bob Willis reckons Bairstow could open if required, as he does in ODI cricket - so the odds are Burns and Jennings remain safe, especially Jennings, who scored a ton in Sri Lanka.
If so, then seamers James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and spinners Ali, Leach and Rashid are seemingly competing for four places.
Broad or Curran?
Broad and Curran did not play together in Sri Lanka, with Curran serving as Anderson's new-ball partner in the opening two Tests and Broad returning for the final fixture with Curran nursing an injury and Anderson rested.
Stokes proved England's go-to right-arm seamer in Sri Lanka, with his hostile bowling roughing batsmen, including when a ferocious spell in the third Test in Colombo saw him back up Rashid's five-for, pick up 3-30 in 10 overs and ensure the hosts crumbled from 173-1 to 240 all out. Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha described Stokes' bowling and fielding as the difference between the sides in the final two Tests.
With Curran offering a left-arm option with the ball and the sort of lower-order power and panache that Broad used to - the 20-year-old averages a lick under 37 with the bat in his seven Tests, with three fifties and 14 sixes - it may take until the Ashes for Broad and Anderson to be reunited.
How good are Windies?
The stats say they are are struggling - Jason Holder's men have won just two of their previous 15 Test series, with a 2-0 victory at home to Bangladesh and a 1-0 success in Zimbabwe the only wins since 2014.
Toward the end of 2018, Windies were drummed by an innings and 272 runs and then 10 wickets in India, before going down to Bangladesh by 64 runs and then an innings and 184 runs, leaving them eighth in the Test rankings.
There have been flickers of promise over the last few years, though, notably when Shai Hope struck twin tons at Headingley in 2017, while Shimron Hetmyer notched three fifties in five Tests last year.
On the bowling front, Shannon Gabriel and skipper Holder claimed 37 and 33 wickets respectively in 2018, with Gabriel securing a match haul of 13-121 against Sri Lanka in Gros Islet - the venue for the third Test against England - as he completed the third-best figures by a West Indian in Tests.
How important is this series?
England will be looking to beat Windies in the Caribbean for the first time since 2004, after losing the 2009 series and drawing in 2015.
Windies will also be aiming to impress in new head coach Richard Pybus' first series in charge, with the Englishman succeeding Stuart Law in the role after the Australian took up the same position at Middlesex.
Pybus' appointment hasn't been overwhelmingly popular with Darren Sammy tweeting that he hoped it was "fake news".
The 54-year-old was previously Windies' director of cricket between 2013 and 2016, during which time he was involved in the decision to make it compulsory for players to play domestic cricket in the Caribbean in order to be eligible for international selection, a call that led a number of players to focus solely on featuring in T20 leagues across the globe.
The series marks England's last in the five-day format before the Ashes gets underway on the first day of August, meaning those not yet certain of places against Australia - Jennings, Burns, Rashid to name three - could go a long way to cementing their spots with runs or wickets against Windies.
Root has also made it clear he wants to lead England back to No 1 in the Test rankings and a victory here could close the gap between themselves and current pacesetters India, as well as extend their advantage over Australia, who remain in fifth spot after their defeat to Virat Kohli's men.
Watch England's tour of the Caribbean live on Sky Sports this winter, starting with the first Test in Barbados from Wednesday, January 23.