As well as with the idyllic Caribbean landscape, England begin their Test series against the West Indies on Wednesday against a backdrop of stark contrasts.
While Joe Root’s side are looking up from their position of No3 in the world rankings following a positive run of results and the hosts languish in eighth, it is off the field where the biggest differences lie.
As a well-established member of cricket’s Big Three, alongside India and Australia, England’s position at the table of the game’s governance is unquestioned.
The England and Wales Cricket Board help shape the future of the sport when big decisions come to be made and receive a healthy chunk of funding. The West Indies, meanwhile, have not just slipped down the pecking order in terms of performance; they are now much less influential than in their heyday too.
This disparity is illustrated by the fact that while big-hitters India will earn £320m from the International Cricket Council over the next four years, the West Indies will pocket just £99m.
Similarly, while England can reward their biggest stars by handing out sizeable central contracts, the West Indies Cricket Board’s vastly smaller pot of money means they run the risk of losing theirs. The lure of ever-expanding global Twenty20 leagues is strong – just ask Chris Gayle or Dwayne Bravo.
The problems don’t stop there either. The West Indies incorporates 16 disparate island nations, meaning their smaller budget is stretched extremely thin.
The WICB’s English chief executive Johnny Grave told the Telegraph recently that the distances between venues, high labour cost and predominance of the tourist industry made hosting four-day cricket “horribly expensive”.
All of those costs have a knock-on effect, as former West Indies head coach Stuart Law explained last week at his first media engagement since taking over as Middlesex coach.
“It is in a healthy state on the international scene, but domestic cricket still needs a lot of work,” he said. “It’s very difficult to run on a shoestring budget and to produce superstars out of just playing matches. There are no practice facilities, no academy set-up, so that will be the next port of call. It is in the pipeline, but they’re just waiting for funding to come through."
While money is an all-encompassing concern, keeping everybody happy – cricket boards, administrators, politicians, coaching staff and players – is also far from easy, as the West Indies’ recent history shows, with disagreements, dismissals, suspensions and strikes aplenty.
A tour of India was abandoned in 2014 after a payment dispute. Former coach Phil Simmons was suspended and eventually sacked for criticising selection in 2015. Several players have been jettisoned or alienated following contractual disputes. Even the current head coach’s appointment was met with widespread dissent.
Richard Pybus was promoted from high performance director to interim head coach this month, despite not having been on the original shortlist to replace Law. The decision – apparently taken by WICB president Dave Cameron – was publicly questioned by ex-captain Daren Sammy and the board was forced to issue a statement in which they stood by their decision.
Of course the fractious nature of the administration does not make it easy for those on the pitch – when they get there that is.
Plenty of talent
West Indies’ progress has been further stalled by the fact that they have only played 27 Test matches since start of 2016, compared to England’s 41.
With all that’s going on behind the scenes – and frequently in front of them too – it’s understandable that West Indies have struggled. They have lost 10 of their last 13 Test series since last facing England at home in 2015, with victories over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and a draw with Sri Lanka the high points.
However, despite all of the factors holding them back the West Indies are still moving forward.
Led by Jason Holder, who had the captaincy thrust upon him four years ago aged 23 and with just eight Tests under his belt, they can call upon plenty of talent.
In Holder they have the world’s No3 all-rounder. In Shannon Gabriel they possess a genuinely quick bowler who is coming off his most successful year in Test cricket. And in Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite they have two batsmen who so memorably chased 322 runs in the fourth innings to claim a remarkable Test win at Headingley in 2017.
England have won just one Test series in the Caribbean since 1968. If they are to improve upon that record the tourists will have to defeat a side who remain competitive despite their adversity.