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England vs West Indies, 1st Test Preview: Cut out the cliches; Cricket is Back

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The last time an international cricket match happened was in March. Owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, the world has come to a standstill. Cricket – for all the complicated rules it has already – got into a position where the basic playing conditions had to be reviewed. After 116 days, the sport is finally going to be back, as West Indies take on England (England vs West Indies series here) on July 8, at Southampton, in a bio-secure environment.

Various new rules were brought in place by the International Cricket Council to ensure players safety, and stay away from the pandemic such as the approval of additional DRS reviews, COVID-19 replacements, and non-neutral umpires to name a few. However, the most crucial one was the ban on usage of saliva to shine the ball. Though the teams got their share of warm-up matches, there was very little to see. There could be many other practices that might not be the same as before, such as high-fives, celebrations, and team huddles. It would be interesting to see how both the teams adapt in a Test match. 

England vs West Indies – Team news

Team News – England

England announced their 13-men squad for the first Test on Saturday. With Joe Root missing out on family duties, Ben Stokes, the man of the last English summer, will be walking out for coin toss on Wednesday as the 81st England captain. Jos Buttler, who was on the verge of getting dropped after the South Africa series, serves deputy to him.

England has left out Johnny Bairstow and Moeen Ali. Apart from that, the names were almost predictable. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood complete the pace attack along with Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Now, it might be tempting to see both Archer and Wood play. Even though he went wicketless in the intra-squad warm-up match, it is hard to say that Broad would be left-out. The pace attack could be Broad, Anderson, either one of Wood and Archer along with all-rounder Chris Woakes.

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The batting-order almost picks itself. Rory Burns makes a comeback from his injury and is all set to open with Dom Sibley. With Stokes, Buttler and Ollie Pope confirming their slots, it could be a toss-up between Joe Denly or Zak Crawly for the number three spot. And it seems more likely that England might go with Joe Denly. In all the possibility, Stokes should bat at number four given the lack of experience before and after him. Dom Bess, who was impressive in the warm-up match, picks himself as the lone spinner.

Team News – West Indies

The touring team arrived in England with a huge squad of 25 players almost a month ago and spent their time in quarantine before resuming practice. While they might miss the services of Shimron Hetmeyer, Darren Bravo and Keemo Paul, as the trio chose not to tour for personal reasons, West Indies got themselves a couple of intra-squad warm-up matches to get acclimatised to the conditions.

Courtesy to those fixtures almost all the frontline batsmen got decent batting time. Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Jermaine Blackwood, Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase had at least one decent outing. However, the batting still looks vulnerable, and almost every prominent member of the team had acknowledged it. In the absence of Bravo and Hetmeyer, the onus will be on Brathwaite and Hope to step up as they did in their previous tour.

Hope, who scored twin centuries at Leeds during their previous tour, has not scored a hundred after that. Meanwhile, Brathwaite has scored two in the same period – both against Bangladesh at home in 2018. The duo’s success is mighty crucial for West Indies as the likes of Chase, and Brooks bat around them.

Also READ: Know your players – Raymon Reifer – England vs West Indies

Shanon Gabriel’s inclusion completes the pace attack along with Alzarri Joseph and Kemar Roach. The biggest worry for West Indies would be their captain’s fitness and batting form. Holder has made just five runs and bowled five overs in the warm-up matches. He is so central to the line-up, and whether to play an extra batsman or an all-rounder will depend on his role in the side.

England vs West Indies – Probable XIs 

England Probable XI: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Ben stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson

Substitutes: Jofra Archer, Zak Crawley,

Reserves: James Bracey, Sam Curran, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, Olly Stone

West Indies Probable XI: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shai Hope, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder, Rakheem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shanon Gabriel

Substitutes: Nkrumah Bonner, Raymon Reifer, Jermaine Blackwood, Chemar holder

Reserves: Sunil Ambris, Joshua Da Silva, Keon Harding, Kyle Mayers, Preston McSween, Marquino Mindley, Shane Moseley, Anderson Phillip, Oshane Thomas, Jomel Warrican

Venue: The Rose Bowl, Southampton

Southampton has been a successful venue for the hosts as they have not lost a Test match there yet. In the three matches that were played, England won two and drew the other. Toss has played a significant role in this venue, for England has won the toss all three times. The last Test match that was played here in 2018 between India and England went towards a close finish before Moeen Ali turned it around with the ball. First innings lead would be critical irrespective of which team bats first.

England vs West Indies – What’s in focus here?

For the first time in a very long time, it is just the sport that would be in focus than the players and their performance. The success of this series is pivotal to the resumption of cricket around the world. Based on how this series progresses, other cricket boards might work on their strategies to get their team back on the grounds.

Coming back to cricket, even though West Indies had won a match in England in 2017, and the home series in 2018, beating them in a Test series in England is an uphill task. The last time they lost a home series was against Sri Lanka six years ago. England’s top-order might look inexperienced in the absence of Joe Root. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise, if they do well with a middle-order that comprises Stokes, Pope and Buttler. The bigger challenge for the tourists would be facing the England seam attack, and it is their performance with the bat that could determine the result of the series.

Though we are in this for the contest and competitive nature of the sport, for now, irrespective of who does well, we can be more than happy that cricket is back. Hopefully, the sport will be in a better place by the end of this series.