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England's 2019 starts with 'once in generation' opportunity against West Indies
England's big year?

England's 2019 starts with 'once in generation' opportunity against West Indies

England begin a 2019 that England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison believes represents a "once in a generation" opportunity with a West Indies tour that could yet prove uncomfortably awkward.

With both a World Cup and an Ashes on home soil on the horizon, it will be a challenge for England's leading cricketers in both the one-day and Test formats to maintain their focus on the challenge in front of them.

A three-Test tour and five-match ODI series in the Caribbean, which gets underway with a warm-up fixture against a West Indies Board XI in Barbados next week, should provide a good barometer of England's progress.

Read: CWI reveals dates for biggest England tour to West Indies in decade

Joe Root's Test side are second in the world rankings, while Eoin Morgan's men top the equivalent ODI standings.

By contrast, the West Indies are currently eighth in the Test table and ninth in the ODI ladder.

England have won only one Test series in the West Indies since 1968, when Michael Vaughan's team sealed a 3-0 victory in 2004.

They've toured the Caribbean twice more since then, losing 1-0 in 2009 and then drawing 1-1 four years ago after a build-up where ECB chairman Colin Graves had dismissed the West Indies as "mediocre".

Root's men will have to cope with the pressure of being overwhelming favourites to beat a struggling West Indies side who will be coached by an Englishman in the recently-appointed Richard Pybus.

Challenges in 2019

Yet for England, the stakes are even higher in what will be Australian coach Trevor Bayliss's final year in charge before stepping down.

Following their miserable first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup, former England captain turned ECB supremo Andrew Strauss, made limited-overs cricket a priority. The 2019 edition of the tournament will prove the worth of that policy.

Read: England announce unchanged Test squad for Caribbean tour

More than that, the fact the Ashes and the World Cup fall in the same season – something that hasn't happened since the inaugural 1975 men's World Cup in England – could provide the ECB with a massive opportunity to connect with a wider British sporting public who have lost contact with the game.

Michael Atherton, the former England captain turned cricket correspondent wrote, the absence of a major international football tournament in 2019 offers cricket the chance to "own" the summer in its birthplace.

"Rarely, though, have the two biggest events in the English cricket calendar, the World Cup and Ashes – as well as the women's Ashes – combined with so little competition for what marketing types term 'eyeballs'," said Atherton.