England v West Indies: I hope Ben Stokes captains like he plays – Agnew

England v West Indies: I hope Ben Stokes captains like he plays – Agnew

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Stokes looking forward to the ‘challenge’ of captaining England
England v West Indies, first Test
Venue:Ageas Bowl, SouthamptonDates:8-12 JulyTime:11:00 BST
Coverage:Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra; live text commentary and in-play clips on BBC Sport website; highlights on BBC Two and BBC Sport website at 19:00 (19:30 on Sunday)

England’s Test series against West Indies, played behind closed doors and in a bio-secure environment, will be a very different experience to what we have been used to before.

To some extent, I feel sorry for the players because they haven’t had the preparation you would usually expect before an important series, but they will have to make the best of it and rise to the occasion.

There will be challenges. It is second nature for a bowler to lick his thumb and apply saliva to the ball – something that has been temporarily outlawed – so they have to adapt.

On a long day in the field, there will be no crowd to feed off. Then again, there are often small crowds at county matches, and no spectators at matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so it won’t be a completely alien experience.

Hopefully, given the circumstances, this sort of cricket is something we will only see this summer.

Having said that, all of the work that has gone into making it happen is incredibly impressive. England may well be providing the blueprint for other parts of the world to stage their own international matches.

However, the conditions in which the matches are being played should not detract from the action on the field.

England will be wanting to build on their successful tour of South Africa, while we should not forget West Indies are holders of the Wisden Trophy after winning 2-1 in the Caribbean 18 months ago.

Not only that, but there is a lot at stake for many members of the England team.

Can James Anderson and Stuart Broad prolong their careers even further? Will Joe Denly make the big score he needs, or will Zak Crawley be the batsman to survive when Joe Root returns?

Is Jos Buttler able to reverse his wretched run of form, and will Dom Bess repay the faith shown in him as the first-choice spinner?

There are subplots everywhere. It is what makes Test cricket so fascinating.

Stokes the skipper

Perhaps the most captivating subplot of them all is Ben Stokes captaining England for the first time in place of Root, who is on paternity leave.

It is another step on Stokes’ remarkable journey from that night in Bristol in 2017, which cost him the vice-captaincy and saw him charged with affray, for which he was eventually acquitted.

When he first returned, we wondered if his cricket had been affected, because there was a short time when it looked like his confidence had been dented.

The all-rounder needs some fire and brimstone in his game, and it appeared as though he was holding something back, just in case people thought the aggression was coming out in the wrong way.

But, over time, he has learnt to channel that hostility. Look at the way he played in the World Cup final, and again in that incredible Ashes Test at Headingley. Yes, the aggression was there, but it was unleashed with clarity of thought.

Understandably, Stokes doesn’t like talking about Bristol. He m

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