International cricket is set to resume after a break of nearly four months, and the players on either side are eager to put on a performance befitting of the occasion.
England v West Indies, 1st Test
Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Wednesday, 8 July; 11:00am local, 10:00am GMT
The first Test between England and West Indies is a truly special occasion as it marks the resumption of international cricket after a break of nearly four months. The last recognised game of international cricket was an ODI between Australia and New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground before the rapid spread of COVID-19 put a pause on all major sporting activities around the world. That match was played behind closed doors as a precaution against the spread of the virus – a measure that is set to remain in place for forthcoming international matches.
While the greater significance of the match will not be lost on players, they have insisted that their drive for success will not be diminished. In fact, the prolonged break is likely to spur the players on to try and excel.
Led by Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, West Indies have a sharp pace attack well capable of running through the world's best batting line-ups, especially if offered support from conditions. With some cloud cover expected over the next few days, the fast men will relish the prospect of bowling with the Dukes ball.
England's batsmen showed promising signs on their victorious tour of South Africa late last year. In the absence of Joe Root, the likes of Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley will be especially keen to build on that promise, if given the chance. Stand-in captain Ben Stokes will be keen to make an impact with the bat too. The bowling attack looks very well-rounded on the pace front. The swing prowess of James Anderson, expertise in seam movement of Stuart Broad and unsettling pace of the likes of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood could pose big troubles for the visiting batsmen.
Remember the last time
When the sides last met in a Test match, England won by a handsome margin of 232 runs but not before West Indies had won the series by handing England a couple of humbling defeats in the first two games of the rubber. Roach was especially lethal during that series, picking up 18 wickets at an average of 13.88. With the bat, Jason Holder finished as the top run-getter with 229 runs against his name, 202 of which came in an unbeaten innings at Barbados. The other men to score hundreds during that series were Shane Dowrich, Roston Chase and Root.
What they said
Ben Stokes, England stand-in captain: Everybody is ready and raring to go. You've got to look at it as we're walking out on the field to represent the country. When you've got the three lions on your chest, nothing makes you more proud. I know there's not going to be anybody in the crowd to hear or get that energy from, but we know we've got hundreds of thousands of people watching us from around England who want us to do well.
Jason Holder, West Indies captain: We did well in the last series against Afghanistan. We've won against England and we've done well on the back of top-order really. You go back to the series against England, Shane (Dowrich) got a century, Roston Chase, I got runs probably in the lower half, there were still very significant contributions from the top order.
There is plenty of cloud cover to be expected through the course of the Test with the threat of intermittent showers. The overcast conditions promises to make for a spicy contest, given the quality of bowlers on either side. But spinners can be expected to become increasingly important as the game progresses. In the last Test played here, Moeen Ali's off-spin fetched England nine wickets in a winning effort against India.
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