|First Test, day one, Ageas Bowl|
|England 35-1: Burns 20*, Gabriel 1-19|
|West Indies: Yet to bat|
England endured a frustrating return to international cricket as the opening day of the first Test against West Indies was disrupted by rain.
Only 17.4 overs were possible in Southampton, in which time England battled to 35-1.
This series and the rest of England’s rejigged home summer is being played behind closed doors and in a bio-secure environment, with everyone on site subject to coronavirus tests, temperature checks and adhering to strict safety measures.
The home side, being led for the first time by Ben Stokes while regular captain Joe Root is isolating after the birth of his second child, opted to omit pace bowler Stuart Broad in favour of James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
Just before play got under way three hours late, all players and officials paused in silence to remember those lost to coronavirus and West Indies legend Sir Everton Weekes, then took a knee in a powerful gesture of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Opener Dom Sibley, making his home debut, was bowled playing no shot to Shannon Gabriel to the fourth ball he faced and departed without scoring.
Rory Burns, returning from an ankle injury, looked comfortable for his unbeaten 20, while Joe Denly required more fortune in reaching 14.
Bad light forced the players to take an early tea, with rain and more gloom ensuring they did not return.
The same, but different
This series should have been played in June, and it is testament to the planning done by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and the willingness of West Indies to travel, that the first international cricket anywhere in the world since March is taking place at all.
The differences to a normal day of Test cricket in England ranged from stark to subtle. The glaring absence of spectators meant the chatter of the players or instructions of the umpires were clearly audible, and even laughter from the dressing rooms carries across the ground.
Hand sanitiser stations are dotted around the boundary, England’s pre-match huddle was socially distanced, and Stokes and West Indies captain Jason Holder got in a muddle over whether or not to shake hands at the toss.
There were, though, familiar announcements made over the public address system and Jerusalem was played as the teams took to the field.
The action itself was too disrupted to ever feel fluent, but there was enough play to suggest the surface is two-paced, with some deliveries climbing and others scuttling through.
There was movement off the pitch throughout, with Sibley misjudging one that the sharp Gabriel got to nip back.
While Burns left with certainty, Denly was often beaten and twice slashed boundaries through the slips. Their most authoritative moments were a Burns cut and a Denly pull through mid-on.
A bold Broad decision
England had a fully fit complement of fast bowlers to choose from, meaning two of Anderson, Archer, Wood, Broad and Chris Woakes would miss out.
With six Tests scheduled over the next seven weeks, it is likely that all will be needed at some point, but it is telling that Anderson, Archer and Wood have been given the first go.
In dropping Broad, England have left out Test cricket’s second-highest wicket-taker of the past 12 months and their second-highest of all time.
The decision to combine Wood and Archer, both of whom bowl in excess of 90mph, is an exciting one, and surely taken with an eye on the 2021-22 Ashes tour to Australia in mind.
Anderson is England’s all-time leading wicket-taker yet, in selecting all three, England opted for a trio of bowlers who have all endured long injuries in the past year.
In doing so, they forced Broad to miss his first home Test in eight years and eschewed Woakes, who boasts a bowling average of 23.45 in home Tests.
‘It’s important to have cricket back’ – what they said
England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler told BBC Sport: “It was a frustrating day – it was bound to happen after such a long wait for cricket. But everyone is just delighted to be back.
“I know there has been a lot of hard work to get the game on and we’re grateful to the West Indies for coming over.”
West Indies bowler Shannon Gabriel: “It’s been a bit tough, coming off and on, but we’ve been doing well so far. We just have to keep switched on when we come back on.”
England assistant coach Graham Thorpe: “It’s important to have cricket back. It’s been a difficult period around the world and slowly things are getting to back to how they were before.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “Would T20 have been played in the last hour and a half? Absolutely. Would 50-over cricket have been played? Absolutely.
“Cricket has to be better than just going off for a bit of bad light. The administrators need to do something about it.”