It has been a long wait for international cricket to resume amid the gloom of lockdown and the surge in coronavirus cases across the globe.
However, after months of forced suspension, 116 days to be precise, cricket is set to return via a three-match Test series between England and West Indies.
With England, which had been waging a grim battle against the deadly contagion, set to play hosts, the first Test is to be played at Southampton and the remaining two at the iconic Old Trafford ground in Manchester.
While regular Test match skipper Jason Holder will lead his Caribbean troops, star all-rounder Ben Stokes will stand in as the captain of the Three Lions in place of Joe Root.
While England have had the better of the Windies in recent exchanges, the Islanders pulled off an upset win in the last home series.
The series will be keenly followed as some changes introduced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) will take effect. The changes include ban on applying saliva on the ball, no spectators and limited celebrations. The changes were brought in largely to ensure player safety, especially given the fact that this virus is supposed to jump from human to human through bodily fluids.
Batting could decide the outcome
The Islanders would be relying on the batting chops of the likes of Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase and John Campbell.
And batting could well decide the outcome of the series, with England, too, having batting riches in Buttler, Ollie Pope and Stokes.
On the bowling front, both teams are fairly well stacked up and balanced.
While the Windies have the likes of Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Shanon Gabriel as quick bowling options, there’s Chase to provide variety in terms of spin.
With Chris Gayle no more available in the longer version of the game, Windies will lack his explosive and fearless batting prowess upfront.
However, in John Campbell, Craig Braithwaite and Shai Hope, they have enough options to bring the old school grit and gumption to their batting, thereby lending it an element of solidity.
Even though they let loose their grip on the urn, England, under Joe Root, has been a solid Test team in the recent past.
In Joffra Archer, James, Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Wood, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, they have an incisive bowling line-up. However, in what is a blow to their chances, Joffra and Wood are both sidelined with injuries and won’t feature in the first Test.
Much anticipated, will live up to its billing?
Speaking of the much-desired return of cricket, England’s stand-in skipper said, “It’s great that cricket is back on TV. It’s massive for cricketers and spectators in terms of lifting the spirit of the country.”
Unlike the Ashes or an encounter with India or other Asian giants like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, never has a series between the Three Lions and West Indies generated as much interest. Part of the reason is of course the promise of a return of action to a cricket-starved public.
While Test cricket has been facing fears of waning public interest, this series holds the promise of not only drawing eyeballs but also rekindling interest in the longest form of the game.
In the age of limited overs cricket and cash-rich Twenty 20 leagues, Test cricket has dropped down the popularity stakes. “But I don’t think Test cricket is in a position to need revival. It is the purest form of cricket.
Most cricketers would do anything to play just one Test,” said Stokes during a pre-match press conference.
While all eyes will be on this series, here’s hoping that the contest will live up to its billing.
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