Talk is cheap, but where England's contests against West Indies are concerned, it can be very costly indeed. We look back on five occasions when an English word out of place has been sent back with interest
Tony Greig in 1976
"These guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they're down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel." Tony Greig's pre-series comments in 1976 were quite possibly the most ill-judged and inflammatory in all of sporting history. The racist connotations of Greig's words, delivered in his bombastic South African lilt, horrified his own players, who were justifiably fearful of the retribution to come at the hands of West Indies' fast bowlers. "This was the greatest motivating speech the England captain could have given to any West Indian team," Viv Richards said, who would finish his first tour of England with 829 runs at 118.42. By the end of the Oval Test, Greig himself was the one grovelling on the outfield, in front of the gleeful Caribbean fans, after Michael Holding's 14 wickets had delivered a 3-0 series win.
David Gower in 1985-86
A slightly unfair addition to these annals, because there is little doubt that David Gower's words to the BBC's Peter West, on the balcony at The Oval in the midst of England's Ashes victory celebrations, were said entirely in jest. Nevertheless, history records that when Gower was asked to throw his thoughts forward to England's trip to the Caribbean the following spring, for a rematch against the same side that had crushed them 5-0 on home soil the previous summer, Gower responded: "I'm sure they will be quaking in their boots". Things didn't entirely pan out that way. Before the Tests had even begun, Mike Gatting had his nose flattened by a Malcolm Marshall bouncer, and by the time Viv Richards had flogged a 56-ball hundred in the fifth Test in Antigua, a second consecutive "blackwash" had been signed and sealed.
Colin Graves in 2015
A straight-talking Yorkshireman, for better and for worse, Colin Graves launched his stint as ECB chairman in the spring of 2015 with a fusillade of faux pas that would have made Gerald Ratner blush. Not content with giving the impression that the exiled Kevin Pietersen had a chance to get back into England contention - a claim that horrified the same ECB colleagues who had spent the annus horriblis of 2014 trying to brush his sacking under the carpet - Graves decided to rile West Indies, England's first opponents since their dismal exit from that year's World Cup, by dismissing them as "mediocre". "If we don't win, I can tell you now there will be some enquiries of why we haven't," he added. His words were pinned on the West Indies dressing room door by Phil Simmons, the coach, and gleefully quoted back at the end of a five-wicket triumph in the Barbados Test, a result that preserved their proud series record against England on home soil.
Mark Nicholas in 2016
It seemed like a throwaway comment in the final pars of a wide-ranging tournament preview for ESPNcricinfo. But when Mark Nicholas concluded his predictions for the World T20 in 2016 by writing: "West Indies are short of brains but have IPL history in their ranks", he seriously touched a nerve. West Indies were a team on a mission going into that tournament - their march to the final was one long and lingering v-sign to the same CWI board that had disparaged them in the build-up, and any perceived slight was welcome fuel to their fire. Darren Sammy, the captain, latched onto Nicholas' comments ahead of the final against England, and then repeated his irritation in the course of an emotional speech on the winner's podium, after Carlos Brathwaite's four sixes had sealed their stunning final-over victory. Nicholas, for his part, apologised at the earliest opportunity, writing in his subsequent column that it had been a "pretty damn lazy" choice of words.
Geoff Boycott in 2019
Writing in his Telegraph column in the build-up to this latest series, Geoff Boycott had claimed that Jason Holder's team were "very ordinary, average cricketers". It was a claim that Joe Root, England's captain, was able to laugh off before a ball had been bowled - "It's not like Geoffrey to be outspoken, is it?" - but he was unlikely to have found it quite so funny in the aftermath of two towelling defeats at Barbados and Antigua. Holder, on the other hand, had seen it all before - not least from Graves four years earlier - and quietly took it all in his stride. "We expect this sort of thing. It gets us going," he said. "We're looking forward to it." England had no idea quite how much he meant it.