England vs West Indies 1st Test: Fiery pace battle in empty stadium
Stokes, the world No. 2 Test all-rounder, put things in perspective before going into the three-match contest against a West Indies team captained by the No. 1 Test all-rounder Jason Holder.Updated: Jul 08, 2020 07:08 IST
A pre-Test news conference usually offers a peek into the strategies of the team captains. Ahead of the first Test between England and West Indies starting at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Wednesday, one took in a glimpse of the homes of fellow journalists too.
These are not normal times. In place of a well-lit media room, here was a video conference to mark the return of international cricket after 116 days, attended by journalists via their workstations at home from their countries. Bookshelves, tennis racquets, coffee mugs, they were all on view. A journalist was even on the phone in the middle of the virtual conference, unthinkable if one is physically present at a pre-match briefing. Covid-19 has done that to everyone, and sport is no exception.
So, is it going to be different on the field?
“When you got the Three Lions on your chest, you cannot feel any more proud. Yes, there will be no crowd to get that energy from, but we know thousands will be watching us from their homes. The fact that we are out on the field playing for our country, you don’t get that feeling just because there will be no one on the ground,” Ben Stokes, who will lead England in a Test for the first time in the absence of Joe Root, who is attending the birth of his second child, said on Tuesday.
Stokes, the world No. 2 Test all-rounder, put things in perspective before going into the three-match contest against a West Indies team captained by the No. 1 Test all-rounder Jason Holder. Right from when the Windies team landed in England on June 9 the focus has been on what would have been peripheral but are now central, rather than cricket itself. And rightly so because of the strictness with health issues are being controlled at a time when the world is reeling from the pandemic.
“Apart from the protocols, face mask, social distancing, nothing is different. Oh yes, there is no saliva too,” Holder said.
Beyond that, this is one English summer which promises to see the clash between two great fast bowling units. England have the experienced James Anderson and Stuart Broad along the likes of the fast Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Stokes himself. In normal circumstances, the atmosphere would be electric when the Barbados-born Archer steams in to bowl against a West Indies team he turned his back on, backed by the full-throated cheers of the Barmy Army. But the teams will be playing to empty stands.
West Indies, who are holders of the Wisden Trophy after their home series win last year, also have a potent pace attack in Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel, besides Holder’s nagging seam.
In such a scenario, it will be batting that will make the difference. “I don’t think they (Windies) can last five days, so they have to take these games in four days. They have to establish a lead and keep it,” Windies legend Brian Lara has said.
Holder said he was not aware of Lara’s comments but admitted England were favourites. “I know there has been a lot of talk about our lower order scoring more runs than our top order in recent times. But we have players like Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Shamarh Brooks just to name a few who have done well in England.”
Holder pins his hopes on his fast bowlers as well as on spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, especially after the warm-up game England played at the Ageas Bowl showed the pitch might play slow. Off-spinner Moeen Ali took nine wickets in the 2018 win over India at the venue.
“Rahkeem is a massive weapon. He has done well. We will however decide on the final XI tomorrow morning,” he said.
With so many fast bowlers in both the teams, not being allowed to use saliva to shine the ball will be felt. ICC temporarily imposed the ban to reduce chances of Covid-19 infection.
“It is a natural thing to do in cricket, to shine the ball with saliva on it. The hardest thing we encountered in the warm-up game was giving our hats and jumpers to the umpires. The umpires said ‘no, we can’t take it’. Sweat has helped us look after the ball--that is going to be a different skill now because you want to move the ball in the air. Putting sweat on the ball is a very good substitute,” Stokes said.
TV timing: England vs West Indies, Live from 3:30pm on Sony Six