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Preview:When the players of England and West Indies walk out on to the lush Ageas Bowl pitch on Wednesday it will be a landmark moment for international cricket after a 117-day hiatus.
It will also be a milestone in the career of England’s talisman Ben Stokes as he captains the side for the first time.
The circumstances will be surreal with the COVID-19 pandemic meaning no fans will be present in the bio-secure environment — the only sounds being the thump of leather on willow, the chit-chat between the players and some piped-in crowd effects.
Once the strangeness of the ‘new-normal’ sinks in, however, an intriguing series looks on the cards between the sides ranked fourth and eighth on the ICC’s Test list.
With England captain Joe Root missing for the birth of his second child, Stokes will get to pit himself against West Indies counterpart Jason Holder.
Holder, embarking on his 33rd test as captain, is first on the ICC’s all-rounder rankings while Stokes is second.
Both have similar problems to solve, namely fragile batting lineups that could be at the mercy of top-class bowling attacks.
West Indies won the last series between the sides in 2018-19 on home soil, but have not won a series in England since 1988. They will be looking to end the drought as cricket takes its first baby steps towards getting back on the field.
Windies had arrived in England a month prior to the first match to make sure they prepared well and also served the mandatory quarantine period in England.
They played two intra-squad matches in Manchester before heading to Southmapton, in contrast to England who have played only one practice game.
The key challenges for cricketers will be to adopt to new rules and protocols, in order to keep a healthy space for match to take place.
As per ICC’s new guidelines, cricketers cannot use saliva to shine the ball. ICC has also allowed COVID replacements in case some player is found positive.Not to forget, an extra DRS review will be given to each team in case of an unsuccessful decision from the on-field umpire. This has been done keeping in mind the less experienced umpires officiating in the games as ICC has done away with neutral umpires during corona times.
With inputs from