Windies' arrival in England a boost for cricket

by Julian GUYER
England Test captain Joe Root (left) and West Indies skipper Jason Holder

International cricket will start to get back on its feet following the coronavirus shutdown when the West Indies arrive on Tuesday for a Test series in England.

Fans who have had to make do with months of television repeats can now look forward to the real thing again, with England captain Joe Root saying of the West Indies' decision to tour: "It must be extremely scary and I think the whole cricketing world will be grateful to see some cricket again."

The three-match contest was originally meant to be played in June but will now start on July 8 instead because of the pandemic.

But rather than games before crowds at the Oval, Edgbaston and Lord's, a now back-to-back series will take place behind closed doors at the more 'bio-secure' Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford.

Whereas players usually spend evenings during a Test away from the ground, they will now instead find themselves in a protective bubble at two venues which both have onsite hotels.

Hampshire's Ageas Bowl will stage the series opener from July 8, with the next two Tests at Old Trafford.

Health measures, including a ban on applying saliva to the ball to aid swing set to be rubber-stamped at an International Cricket Council meeting on Wednesday, and repeated virus testing will be in place.

"Our main objective is to deliver a safe environment for all stakeholders," said England and Wales Cricket Board events director Steve Elworthy.

- 'Done us a favour' -

Yet there is no escaping the financial impact of the virus.

Going ahead with major matches is seen as vital, with the ECB estimating it could lose �252 million ($316 million) if there are no fixtures at all this summer.

One of cricket's poorest major teams in the West Indies is now helping one of its wealthiest, with former England captain David Gower saying the Windies had "done us a favour" at a time when the COVID-19 death toll in Britain had topped 40,000.

The West Indies, who hold the Wisden Trophy after beating England in the Caribbean last year, have selected a 25-strong squad made up of 14 first-choice players and 11 travelling reserves.

They will complete a 14-day quarantine period, combined with initial training, during several weeks at Old Trafford before heading south from Manchester for the first Test.

Despite the ECB's efforts, three West Indies players -- Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul -- declined to tour, with Cricket West Indies insisting it will not hold this against them when it comes to future selection.

Bravo and Hetmyer's absence deprives the tourists of two top-order batsman, with Paul less of a loss given he is a back-up for fast-bowling all-rounder Jason Holder, the West Indies captain.

It was a point emphasised by CWI chief selector Roger Harper, who said at last week's squad announcement: "I expect that the bowling unit will once again provide a serious challenge for England and our batting will have to deliver."

But it could be Root who is the most significant absentee from the first Test.

Root's wife is expected to give birth to the couple's second child in the first week of July.

The Yorkshireman plans to attend the birth but that may mean Root has to then self-isolate for seven days, putting a question mark against his participation at Southampton.

Root has backed vice-captain Ben Stokes to do a good job in his absence but Kevin Pietersen, recalling his own brief stint as England skipper, was wary of adding to the star all-rounder's burdens and suggested wicketkeeper Jos Buttler for the role instead.

"Do I want to see Ben Stokes change from who he is and the current player he is?" Pietersen told talkSPORT. "Probably not.

"The entertainers and the guys that have to carry the mantle in the team sometimes aren't the best captains and sometimes struggle with the extra added pressure."

England Test captain Joe Root (left) and West Indies skipper Jason Holder