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It was 1963. The Oval crowd of 25,350 – applauded with delight, doffing their hats and puffing their cigars, waiving their jackets in the air, throwing back the ball from the boundary only after flaunting their possession of it. And when Basil Butcher – on day 4 – hit the winning runs off Brian Statham to seal the five-Test match series 3-1, they invaded the field in jubilation and carried the match-winning centurion Conrad Hunte on the shoulders. Later, the two captains Ted Dexter and Sir Frank Worrell shook hands, raised their glass on completion of the inaugural Wisden Trophy. 

Let us fast forward to the present day.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the teams for the entire duration of the tour will live and play in a bio-secured bubble under regular medical supervision. The venues for the series are such that the teams need not travel to the ground since their hotel overlooks the playing area. 

The three-Test series for the Wisden Trophy will be played behind closed doors with artificial crowd ambiance being created on sound systems to provide the feeling of a packed house. Also for the fans, sitting in front of their screens at home to gain the experience of a vibrant stadium. “

Some noise around would be great. It will be strange for us playing in England where there is always a lot of crowd noise and atmosphere,” West Indies fast bowler Kemar Roach said. 

Kemar Roach West Indies
Credits: Sportstar-The Hindu

Albeit, behind closed doors, the series will help overcome the financial losses of the cricket boards, and, above all, will entertain the public. 

As this series marks the return of international cricket after four months, it is difficult to say what to expect, who to watch out for. The teams are well warmed up after playing a couple of intra-squad training matches.

West Indies, will defend the trophy without Shimron Hetmyer, Keemo Paul and Darren Bravo, who exercised their right not to tour. Their batting form in the intra-squad matches has been a worry. The top five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase too did not look up to the mark, while the 22-year-old Joshua Da Silva showed promise with the score of 189 runs without dismissal in the match, which included a century.

Joshua Da Silva
Credits: The Red Force

Skipper Jason Holder managed to score just seven runs and faced fewer than 30 balls in three innings. The No. 1 ICC Test all-rounder and the batting line-up will have to step up before it is late. 

While their bowling attack is pace heavy with Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach, who are well supported by skillful off-spinners: Rahkeem Cornwall and Roston Chase.

With Joe Root missing the first Test due to the birth of his second child, all-rounder Ben Stokes has been chosen as the stand-in captain. 

Ollie Pope England
Credits: Sky Sports

The training matches, for the hosts, proved to get back the confidence. Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence and James Bracey struck half-centuries, while Stokes and Zak Crawley made the thirties. The hosts, like opponents, boast a pace heavy and experienced bowling line up in James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer. Dominic Bess, for his economical bowling in the training match, is said to be the frontline spinner for the opener, he will be assisted by Moen Ali. 

The weather forecasts showers on the first two days of the first Test and it is said that the weather will clear as the match proceeds and the playing conditions will be cool and damp. 

Rose Bowl Southampton
Credits: Hampshire Cricket History

The Ageas Bowl in Southampton, where England have not lost a single Test match, will host the first Test from July 8, while the second (16-20 July) and third (24-28 July) will be played at the Old Trafford in Manchester. 

With a new set of measures approved by the International Cricket Council’s Chief Executive Committee (CEC): the players will not be allowed to use saliva to shine a ball, the teams will now enjoy an extra DRS review per innings, teams can substitute players who show coronavirus symptoms and there will be no neutral umpires. 

“This is a huge step forward in cricket and sports in general,” said Windies Skipper Holder. 

Jason Holder West Indies
Credits: Fox Sports

The Test, starting tomorrow, will not just be the first of the series, but will be the first in many respects. Irrespective of which team wins the series, what matters is they have returned to the field! It would be great, once the series is over, for Joe Root and Jason Holder to raise a toast on not just completing a cricket tour, but importantly, resuming cricket even as the pandemic rages around the planet. 

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Stats

England v. West Indies 

Head to head in Test matches – 157

England – 49

West Indies – 57

Drawn – 51

Squads and reserves

  • England have announced the squad only for the first Test.
  • West Indies have announced the squad for all three Tests.

England (First Test): Ben Stokes (Captain), James Anderson, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Ollie Pope, , Jos Buttler, Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

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

West Indies Test squad: Jason Holder (Captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Chemar Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer and Kemar Roach.

Reserves: Sunil Ambris, Joshua DaSilva, Shannon Gabriel, Keon Harding, Kyle Mayers, Preston McSween, Marquino Mindley, Shayne Moseley, Anderson Phillip, Oshane Thomas and Jomel Warrican.

Where to watch in India?

All matches start at 3.30 pm IST and can be seen live on Sony Six and the Sony Liv app.

Featured image credits: Central Press/Getty Images