The hiatus of over three months is over as international cricket resumes with England vs West Indies Test match at Ageas Bowl in Southampton today.
As players walk out in whites, it would be quite different from where they had left it.
The ongoing pandemic and the adjustments introduced to bring cricket back to the eagerly waiting cricket lovers across the world have given it a new character.
When the world came to a halt, cricketers’ ex and current discussed, argued in favour and against the likely nature of the game when it resumes.
But as it resumes, the debates have shifted from character to the outcome, which everyone wants to be positive as it will set the benchmark for cricket other sports in the near future.
New normal in post-COVID cricket
First thing first, the gentle applaud of the English crowd at Test matches will be conspicuous by its absence.
The players, though, will be companied by the echoes from the Ageas Bowl as they chatter, appeal and as and when the willow meets the leather.
They may also have to fetch the balls when deposited into the stands like the last match before the COVID-19 forced break.
Secondly, the bowlers and fielders will have to curb their natural instinct to use saliva to shine the ball while ensuring they prevent the already skewed game from being dominated by the batsmen.
There will be no team hurdles, no high-fives or customary handshakes.
The absence of neutral umpires will be compensated with an extra review. A COVID substitute will be ready on the bench to take the field if anyone of the players take ill, which none would like to see.
From the post-COVID normal to the match at hand. As whole world tunes on to their TV sets two teams lead by all-rounders, ranked world no.1 and no.2, will look to proffer competitive cricket to all the cricket aficionados.
Both the teams will also walk out with a message of solidarity, unity and equality in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, sporting logos on their collars and may even take a knee, a gesture in vogue.
Battle of bowlers
England vs West Indies is likely to a Test of pace bowlers. Both teams have proven pace bowling attack and it is to be seen how they adapt and cope without the saliva to maintain the ball.
The visitors West Indies have formidable bowling attack in the likes of captain Jason Holder, who had a very good 2019 with bat and ball, Kemar Roach, Shanon Gabriel and Alzari Joseph.
This realisation had compelled the England captain Joe Root, who will miss the first Test on account of birth of his second child, to ask his batsmen to prepare well to ensure that the touring team does not get better of them as they did on their home soil in 2019.
England too has experienced pro in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, supported by the sensational Jofra Archer, who could be the third pacer, and Ben Stokes.
Pitted against these two impeccable set of bowling attacks the batsmen could determine which team emerges on the top, even though the batting line ups of both the teams doesn’t exude much confidence in want of experience.
The lack of confidence in West Indies batting unit has forced the legendary Brian Lara suggest that the visitors’ must try to win the Test in four days as their batting cannot last five days.
Moving closer to the match
The pitch at Ageas Bowl in the England’s intra-squad warm match was low and slow unlike its true nature of being pacey and bouncy. But it is expected that the pitch on the match-day will be livelier.
Moreover, it is also expected to assist the spinners as it did the last when England played India in 2018, with Moeen Ali, who has been left out of the squad, picking up 9 wickets in the match.
If the pitch appears to assist spinners, West Indies could take the field with a balanced 11 with an extra spinner in form of Rahkeem Cornwall.
England on the other hand have just one spinner in the squad- Dom Bess, who picked 3 wickets in the intra-squad match earlier.
However, all said it will depend on the weather as it is predicted to delay/impact the resumption of international cricket.
The first two days could be impacted due to rain in Southampton.
It is to be seen if the visitors can get off the mark in their quest to win a series in England since 1988 or the favourites at home England can wrest the Wisden Trophy and keep the visitors at bay.
Whatever the outcome may be but England vs West Indies Test match is surely the most anticipated game of cricket ever played.
Teams for England vs West Indies first Test
England(Probables): Ben Stokes (Capt.), Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Dominic Bess, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, and James Anderson.
West Indies(Probables): Jason Holder (Capt.), John Campbell, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich (wk), Rahkeem Cornwall, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, and Shannon Gabriel.