After a 117-day absence, international cricket returned in familiar fashion on Wednesday as rain delayed the first test between England and West Indies before the hosts lost Dom Sibley for 0 then reached 35-1 as bad light brought an early tea.
Much else about the occasion felt very different, as the match is being played in a “bio-secure environment” at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl with daily health checks for everyone in the ground -- with no fans present.
Players from both teams “took a knee” before the match started, having observed a minute’s silence to mark the victims of the novel coronavirus and also former West Indies batsman Everton Weekes, who died last week.
Ben Stokes, standing in as England captain for Joe Root, whose wife has just had a baby, won the toss and opted to bat under overcast skies.
Only three overs were possible before the rain returned, but that was long enough for Shannon Gabriel to take the fist wicket of the three-match series as Sibley was bowled by a ball he left but which cut back to clip off stump.
It looked a poor decision at any time but all the more so as in the previous over he had seen partner Rory Burns lucky to escape an lbw review after doing exactly the same thing.
After further rain delays, England eventually settled to their task. Burns was not out on 20 and Joe Denly on 14 when bad light brought them off half an hour before the scheduled 1600GMT tea break. Kemar Roach was the pick of the West Indies bowlers, giving up two runs from his six overs.
England’s top end batting remains something of a work in progress but the strength in depth of their bowling options was illustrated by the decision to leave seamer Stuart Broad out of a home test match for the first time since 2012. Pace duo Jofra Archer and Mark Wood will spearhead their attack.
It is almost four months since England’s warm-up match in Sri Lanka was abandoned due to the COVID-19 threat and no cricket has been played since.
This series will feature many variations from a regular test due to the virus restrictions. There are home umpires -- the first time in England since 2002 -- and because of that each team will have three referrals instead of the usual two per innings.
Players are not allowed to use saliva to polish the ball and umpires will not take jumpers and caps from bowlers.
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