Big picture - Caribbean reboot
The return to action hasn't been quite so jarringly immediate as it was for India and Australia in the wake of the World Cup final, or indeed for England's T20 World Cup winners in Australia last winter. And, let's face it, a four-island jaunt to the Caribbean in December is a reasonably palatable assignment after the indignities that preceded it.
Nevertheless, it's still only three weeks since Jos Buttler's browbeaten squad limped back to Blighty with their World Cup dreams in tatters, and less than a fortnight since their four-year reign as 50-over world champions was formally ended in Ahmedabad. Whatever way you look at it, it seems a curious juncture in the global cycle to be undertaking another three-match ODI series.
And to judge by the inexperienced squad lining up against them, West Indies might be in broad agreement. Not only did they miss out entirely on the World Cup just gone, having fallen short in the brutal qualifying tournament that took place in Zimbabwe in June and July, it now transpires that that failure has condemned them to onlooker status at the 2025 Champions Trophy as well. The road to 2027 will feel all the more dim and distant without that staging post to aim for.
Nicholas Pooran and Jason Holder are among the big names who have opted out of ODIs since the qualifiers, seemingly indefinitely, while Shane Dowrich's retirement only days after his recall - having played his one previous ODI back in 2019 - was further evidence of the format's lowly standing within the region at present.
Rovman Powell, Dominic Drakes, Kyle Mayers and Jayden Seales are among the other familiar names missing for this campaign, and while Shimron Hetmyer is back in favour with the selectors, the decision to move on from the veteran Darren Bravo feels peculiar in light of the reasons given for Hetmyer's absence in Zimbabwe. Though he is already 34, and therefore unlikely to feature in 2027, Bravo was still the leading run-scorer in this year's Super50 Cup, as he captained Trinidad and Tobago to victory in the final.
In the bigger picture, it feels there'll be significantly more at stake for these two teams come the T20I leg of the tour later in the month, when the narrative shifts from two World Cup also-rans to a clash of the defending champions versus the impending hosts of the 2024 tournament next June. Nevertheless, all revivals have to have a starting point, and in the 50-over stakes, that begins at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Sunday afternoon.
From England's perspective, it's a shot to nothing. A chance for a cast of talented fringe players to impress their captain (and indisputable white-ball GOAT, notwithstanding his recent struggles) Buttler, and make the case for a 2015-style cleaning-out of the stables - even if Ben Duckett, one of the players with most to gain in the coming weeks, has played down the likelihood that any long-term places are up for grabs in the coming days.
As for West Indies, at least it's a return to the fray after their telling absence in the months just gone. Financially, if not necessarily competitively, England's visit - and moreover the hordes of supporters that are sure to accompany them - offer significant compensation for the recent dents in their coffers. And besides, it's cricket in the Caribbean with Christmas drawing nigh. What's not to enjoy?
West Indies LWLLW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight - Shimron Hetmyer and Will Jacks
There are a fair few players with a point to prove in this series, but Shimron Hetmyer's back-story takes some beating. He's been powerless to influence not one, but two recent World Cup campaigns. In 2022, he was axed on the eve of West Indies' T20 World Cup campaign after missing a connecting flight to New York, then last summer, he was overlooked for the ODI qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe because the selectors decided to stick with the players who had made their mark on the tour of South Africa earlier that year … and we all know how that decision panned out. Never mind that Hetmyer's absence had been due to his forceful displays for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, or that in 2019, on his previous ODI tour of India (the venue for the World Cup that West Indies missed) his fifth and most recent century had helped to secure a startling eight-wicket win in Chennai. He'll no doubt be eager to make up for that lost time.
Of all the England players who might believe their time has come, few have a better case than Will Jacks. As a hard-hitting opener for Surrey and Oval Invincibles, he had been outshining the mighty Jason Roy at a domestic level long before the selectors decided that Roy's lock on a World Cup place was untenable. Jacks wasn't awarded a central contract in the recent round of deals, but that fact has the potential to work in his favour at this early juncture - with nothing to lose, he has everything to win next time out if he can set about making a long-term case. And to judge by his forceful 94 from 88 balls against Ireland in September, he offers an unfettered attitude to top-order strokeplay that wasn't adequately replicated in Roy's absence last month.
Team news - Rookies to the fore
Bravo may have been a notable omission but his Trinidad and Tobago team-mate Kjorn Ottley - only a year younger at 33 - is back in favour for the first time in three years and looks set to open alongside Brandon King. Shai Hope, the captain and wicketkeeper, is by some distance the most experienced man in their ranks, although Hetmyer, Alzarri Joseph and Oshane Thomas offer a decent spine to a side that could feature two new ODI caps, including the talented allrounder Matthew Forde, 21, who impressed for the Academy side in the Super50 Cup.
West Indies (probable): 1 Brandon King, 2 Kjorn Ottley, 3 Alick Athanaze, 4 Shai Hope (capt, wk), 5 Keacy Carty, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Sherfane Rutherford, 8 Yannic Cariah, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Matthew Forde / Gudakesh Motie, 11 Oshane Thomas
All change for England after their World Cup catastrophe, although how much of it will be permanent remains to be seen. For now, only Jos Buttler remains from the class of 2019, but with the ink still drying on a host of multi-year ECB contracts - including for the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid - you'd suspect one or two of the old guard aren't quite done yet. That said, there ought to be at least seven names in this opening XI who played no part in the tournament just gone, including the same top three who finished the series against Ireland - Will Jacks, Phil Salt and Zak Crawley - and potentially a spot for the Lancashire left-arm spinner, Tom Hartley.
England (probable): 1 Will Jacks, 2 Phil Salt, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Ben Duckett, 6 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Brydon Carse, 9 Rehan Ahmed, 10 Tom Hartley, 11 Gus Atkinson.
Pitch and conditions
No major damage has been reported after a 5.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Saturday morning in Antigua, so there's no suggestion that the match will be affected. The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium is not traditionally the most high-scoring of Caribbean venues, with just three scores in excess of 300 in 20 previous matches, and none higher than the 322 for 6 posted by Ricky Ponting's all-time-great Australia in the venue's maiden fixture during the 2007 World Cup. It's been an intermittent host for ODIs in recent years, however, with just three matches since 2017. Local knowledge suggests the pitch will take spin.
Stats and trivia
England have won 52 of their 102 previous ODIs against West Indies, against 44 losses and six no-results.
West Indies, however, have the edge on home soil, with 23 wins against 17 defeats since their first ODI meeting in the Caribbean in 1981.
England have won each of their last four ODIs at the venue, spanning their tours in 2014 and 2017, having lost their first three, including two at the 2007 World Cup.
England's last series, in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup, ended in a 2-2 draw, including a memorable match in Grenada that featured a world-record 46 sixes.
Jos Buttler needs 39 runs to reach 5000 in ODIs. However, he has passed that total just once in his last 12 innings.
"You see the depth of talent of guys coming through and you want to help shape that period of white-ball cricket. That's something I feel responsibility and motivation for….to get England white-ball cricket back to where it's been for a long time."
Jos Buttler, England's captain, lays out his mission statement in the wake of the World Cup.