Ian Bell insists England did not underestimate the West Indies ahead of the first Test, despite some injudicious comments from the incoming chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Outgoing Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves, who starts work as Giles Clarke’s successor next month, upped the stakes before the tour started by declaring the hosts “mediocre” and promised “some inquiries” if England did not win the series.
The West Indies hung on for a draw on an unresponsive pitch in Antigua last week and the prospect of a similar deck in Grenada tomorrow means fulfilling Graves’s expectations could be a tough task.
But Bell, after 106 Tests and 11 years on the international circuit, never expected anything different.
“We’re not in control of those comments (from Graves), but we know and respect this West Indies side incredibly,” said the 33-year-old.
“I certainly didn’t turn up here expecting for them to roll over and this to be an easy series. You never expect that in any international cricket, let alone a Test team.
“I’m not surprised at all. I expected competition.
“There’s some good young players in that West Indies side. We saw the way Jason Holder played at the end, in a fantastic maiden hundred, and the way Jerome Taylor bowled, in particular with the new ball, showed we have to play good cricket here.
“Do we believe we can win the series? Yes, but there’s a lot of hard work needed to do that.”
Bell may have said all the right things but Windies opener Devon Smith, who will become the first Grenadan to play Test cricket on the island, revealed that Graves’s comments had not gone unnoticed.
“They said in the press they would win three to love, that’s the first one down and we’re looking forward to the next two to come,” he said.
“It motivates me, and the whole team, to go out there and prove them wrong for whatever they said.
“Sometimes it’s good to be underdogs. At least you have nothing to lose and something to prove.
“We have no pressure now. England have the pressure because they are looking for the victory.”
There is no doubt that the home team were more content with a shared game at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and two more draws would be seen as a move in the right direction under new coach Phil Simmons.
That places the onus on England to move the matches forward, but Bell believes the West Indies are harbouring their own hopes of victory.
“They are out here to beat us. They have had opportunities to put us under real pressure,” he said.
“Would we be disappointed if it was 0-0 going home? Yes of course we would.
“In any series we played we would be disappointed not to win it but we are out to do that.
“Hopefully this is the start here and then we go on and finish it in Barbados. Mentally we have to start again.
“The scoreboards are back on nought and we’ve got to work hard for five days to get a result.”
England’s batsmen netted for the first time at the National Stadium in St George’s yesterday, although the bowlers were given a rest day following a long day in the field on Friday.
Moeen Ali was present, batting and bowling in a bid to prove his fitness following an abdominal injury sustained at the World Cup.
The all-rounder played one County Championship match for Worcestershire before being added to the original 16-man squad and looks certain to play in the second Test.
His presence, probably ahead of James Tredwell, would give England’s batting line-up explosive depth down to No 8, with Moeen, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler all jostling for position.
While the exiled Kevin Pietersen attempts to force his way back into the Test side with Surrey, Bell is focused on the young talents who are currently wearing the Three Lions.
“Mo is a quality batter and a quality bowler so we will have to fit him in somewhere. With Joe Root, Stokes and Buttler that is an exciting lower order,” said Bell.
“If we can get off to a good start, they’re going to be worth watching, especially if Stokesy plays like he did the other day.
“They’ll give a lot of entertainment over the next few months. To be a senior player in the middle of that exciting young group is a nice place to be.”