England in West Indies: Why you should not miss Test series

England's Joe Root
Joe Root's England have won their past five Tests
West Indies v England, first Test
Venue: Kensington Oval, Barbados Dates: 23-27 January
Coverage: Live text commentary and The Cricket Social on the BBC Sport website and app

A winnable World Cup and the chance to regain the Ashes, both on home soil - 2019 promises to be one of English cricket's biggest years.

It begins with a three-Test series in the West Indies and the first match in Barbados starts on Wednesday at 14:00 GMT.

England, ranked third in the world, are clear favourites against a struggling West Indies side who recently lost 2-0 in Bangladesh and are still without some of their biggest stars.

But there are plenty of reasons why it might not be so straightforward and why this Test series is worth following...

It could be the start of something big

As the dominant force in one-day cricket, England will start the World Cup in May as worthy favourites. They have never won it before.

The small matter of the Ashes against Australia follow almost immediately. If they win both, 2019 will surely go down as the greatest year in English cricket history.

First, there are issues to resolve with Joe Root's Test side.

Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns need big scores in the Caribbean to prove they deserve to open against Australia. Is Jonny Bairstow the answer to the problem number three position?

Can England cut out the collapses that meant they have only passed 400 six times in 44 innings since the start of 2017?

Spinners Moeen Ali, Jack Leach and Adil Rashid have excellent qualities, but England will not pick all three in English conditions this summer, so who is first choice?

England have only three Tests in the West Indies and a four-day Test against Ireland to work all this out before the Ashes start on 1 August.

West Indies aren't quite as bad as you might think

Only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are below West Indies in the International Cricket Council Test rankings.

But England have won one series in the West Indies in the past 50 years - a 3-0 victory in 2004 as Michael Vaughan's side built towards Ashes success the following year.

Even against a declining West Indies Test team, England have failed to win their two Caribbean series since.

In 2009, Andrew Strauss' side were skittled for 51 to lose the first Test by an innings on the way to a 1-0 series defeat.

In 2015, under Alastair Cook - who is part of the BBC's coverage for this tour - England managed only a 1-1 draw against a team described by soon-to-be England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves as "mediocre".

While England come into this series as holders of the Wisden Trophy after a 2-1 win at home in 2017, a West Indies side featuring many of the players named in the current squad showed tremendous skill by chasing 322 to win a Headingley thriller.

History suggests it would be wise not to underestimate them.

They have some seriously exciting players

West Indies batsman Shimron Hetmyer plays an expansive shot in a Test against Bangladesh
In 10 Tests, Shimron Hetmyer has hit 22 sixes - double the number England's record run-scorer Alastair Cook managed in his career

West Indies superstar Chris Gayle is still missing from the Test team because of a long-standing dispute with the board, but there promises to be plenty of talent on show over the next three weeks.

First, the pace bowlers. Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach are quick and average 21.48 and 23.52 at home respectively. Burns and Jennings can expect a tough challenge, or perhaps ideal preparation for the Australia barrage to come.

Backing up Gabriel and Roach is 22-year-old fast bowler Alzarri Joseph, who is returning from a stress fracture of the back, while Oshane Thomas - a year his junior - impressed with several rapid spells in ODIs against India and Bangladesh last year.

Destructive left-handed batsman Shimron Hetmyer, 22, was one of the ICC's five breakout stars in men's cricket in 2018 and was bought for £457,000 by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League auction.

Shai Hope's only Test centuries remain his two majestic tons in that stunning 2017 win at Headingley, but he had a stellar 2018 in one-day cricket. Three centuries and an average of 67 show he has the ability.

Left-hander Darren Bravo, who has been compared to Brian Lara in style and boasts a Test average of 40, is back after a two-year absence.

Something remarkable always happens in the West Indies

England fast bowler Steve Harmison jumps up to celebrate taking a wicket against West Indies in 2004
Steve Harmison claimed 7-12 in a devastating spell against West Indies in 2004

England's recent tours to the West Indies have been packed with memorable moments.

Twice Brian Lara has made the highest score in Test history, pummelling England for 375 not out at Antigua in 1994 and reclaiming the record from Australia's Matthew Hayden by making an unbeaten 400 on the same ground 10 years later.

In 1994, a wide-eyed England were shot out for 46 in Trinidad as Curtly Ambrose embarked on one of the most frightening spells of quick bowling the game has seen.

Steve Harmison gave West Indies a taste of their own medicine in 2004 when he took an astonishing 7-12 as England, who had eight slips in place at one point, dismissed the hosts for 47.

There have been not one, but two abandoned Tests involving England in the Caribbean. At Sabina Park in Jamaica in 1998, their batsmen spent 61 balls as human targets before the game was called off because of a dangerous pitch; and the Antigua Test in 2009 lasted only 10 deliveries because of a sandy outfield.

And who can forget Marlon Samuels saluting Ben Stokes from the field after the all-rounder was dismissed in Grenada in 2015? The pair are set to renew acquaintances in the one-day and Twenty20 series that follows the Tests.

There has even been drama on the current tour, with Stuart Broad taking a hat-trick in the opening tour match in Barbados.

Wait, there's more?

Throw in glorious weather, swimming pools next to the pitch, brilliantly vocal support - whether it be from famously noisy locals to England's own army of followers - and it is easy to see why a trip to the Caribbean remains one of the most iconic trips for cricket fans.

As if that's not enough to keep you glued to your screen during the Test series, just wait until England's band of power hitters come up against a certain Mr Gayle in the limited-overs matches...

A fan dressed in fancy dress in Antigua in 2015
West Indies support, Antigua-style

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