world’s first cricket Test match since the start of March because of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Its clear the match being staged at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton is about much more than just cricket. A smoothly run Test series — played in a strict isolated environment featuring repeated Covid-19 testing and social distancing — can lay the blueprint for future matches and tours in cricket but also events in other sports targeting a resumption.
“If you get one thing wrong, it might blow this whole getting sport back onto the radar further back,” England captain Ben Stokes said on Tuesday in his eve-of-game news conference.
Stokes also spoke about the responsibility on our shoulders to deliver a massive occasion for TV viewers who have been without international cricket for four months.
“I know everyone has been craving this from a players point of view, he said, but also I think from a spectators and fan’s point of view,” said one of the best all-rounders in world cricket.
England and the West Indies wore Black Lives Matter (BLM) logos on their shirts in support of the campaign against racial injustice and Stokes said his side planned a further ‘gesture’, although he did not specify if this would mean taking a knee.
TV viewers will have the choice of adding a so-called Lords hum during coverage, but there will be no artificial crowd noise in the ground or music between overs, ensuring an eerie silence once the match begins except for selective announcements over the public address system about things such as milestones or bowling changes.
The big screens around the venue will show key highlights, Decision Review System (DRS) and sponsor messages.
The West Indies squad has been here since June 9 in order that the players could first quarantine at Manchester’s Old Trafford and then practice there in lockdown conditions. They had two intra-squad matches England have had only one before the squad travelled to Southampton for the match.
West Indies have not won a Test series in England since 1988 but the team is the holder of the Wisden Trophy after a 2-1 victory in the Caribbean last year. The other two Tests take place in Manchester, starting on July 16 and 24, respectively.
Ben Stokes (captain), Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, James Anderson.
Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich, Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel, Chemar Holder, Nkrumah Bonner, Raymon Reifer.
Umpires; Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth (both England).
TV umpire: Michael Gough (England).
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).