The moment the entire cricket world has been waiting for is finally here. No more speculation, no more discussion, no more negotiation, and above all, no more anticipation: just the sound of bat on ball as Test cricket returns.
While there have been many conversations about what it would like when top-flight cricket finally restarted, it took a massive amount of planning from the host country, United Kingdom, and a giant leap of faith from the men from the Caribbean for the England-West Indies series to become a reality.
Credit must go to the England and Wales Cricket Board for getting their act together, along with governmental agencies and the best medical advice in the country. Equally, the West Indies team have chosen to make the trip to a country that is still reeling under the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, and for this the entire cricketing fraternity is grateful.
Holder talking a big game
Jason Holder, captain of the West Indies team, was focused on what his team could achieve ahead of their three-Test series against England. While he did acknowledge the significance of just returning to competitive cricket, the all-rounder stressed that his team had it in them to be winners.
“We’ve got stability, we’ve got depth,” the West Indies Test captain said on July 7. “We did well in the last series against Afghanistan. We’ve won against England and we’ve done well on the back of top-order really. You go back to the series against England, Shane Dowrich got a century, Roston Chase, I got runs probably in the lower half, there were still very significant contributions from the top order.”
The West Indies batsmen have been under scrutiny in the recent past, especially the misfiring top-order. “I know a lot has been said about the contributions from the lower order in the recent past but if you look at the caliber of players we’ve got, I am more than confident that these guys will do well. I am not at all worried. It’s a team sport and on one particular day, not everyone can have success,” said Holder. “If we can get some runs on the board, it doesn’t need to come from the top order, it can be from anyone. Yes, they haven’t lived up to the expectations but it’s a team sport. How we get them, I don’t really care. All I want is that the bowlers have something to work with.”
One of the possibilities is the movement of Holder, the N0. 1 ranked allrounder in the world, up the batting order to shore his team up. “At some stage, I’ll definitely come up the order. It’s just a matter of when. It’s on the radar for me personally and I’ve had some success. I am feeling good. Feeling good mentally and that’s the most important thing,” said Holder. “If you look at this West Indies Test side, we’ve had some good results,” he pointed out. “We’ve won series, we’ve won Tests, we’ve beaten top sides. This team is really ready for this occasion. We’ve proven in the past that we can win against top sides and we can win the series against top sides.”
For Holder the first step is just getting going. “Everyone is really excited to get back to the park. It’s been a while since we’ve played international cricket so everyone is really relishing the opportunity. We’ve had four solid weeks of fitness and the guys have worked really hard to get back to match fitness. This is more or less the green light. Everyone has been talking about it for the last couple of weeks and most of the boys are eager to get to the first ball that will be delivered tomorrow.”
Stokes to do it his way
England will be led by allrounder Ben Stokes in the absence of Joe Root, who was away with his wife for the birth of their second child, forcing him to undergo a 14-day quarantine period. But Stokes, who has been England’s talismanic allrounder for some time, insists that he will not be trying ape Root’s successful style, and would instead be his own man.
“We had that three-day game which was absolutely fantastic to see where everybody is at,” Stokes said. “The competitive side of that was brilliant. That’s what I asked for before the game, I said I wanted the game to be as competitive as possible.”
Stokes was happy with the manner in which his team were gearing up for what was ahead. “It’s not very often we have been in this situation where we have six or seven bowlers we could choose from. It’s a real head-scratcher as somebody who has got to choose the side. From the bigger picture, it’s a great place to be in as a team. I feel as if we are in a position now with the Test team like we were with the one-day team in 2015 when we were building for that World Cup. I feel as if we are building for the Ashes in Australia and also India. To have the crop of fast-bowlers we now possess is a great place to be as a Test side.”
While allowing himself to be excited at the prospect of play resuming, Stokes acknowledged that these were extraordinary times. “There are obviously a lot of rules and regulations that have been put in place for this to happen and we’ve respected all of them. It is very different but, over the last two weeks, we’ve been handling that very well as a team and as individuals. Not only have we done a great job but also the people who have gone out on a limb, like the hotel staff, to make sure everything is catered for us,” said Stokes. “They have also been fantastic and I feel as though a lot of respect has been shown from both sides to make sure this works. Because if you get one thing wrong, it might blow this whole ‘get sport back on to the radar of people’ further back. So, we’re grateful we’ve been given an opportunity to get back onto the field and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure we don’t mess it up.”
Teams unite to send a message
With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum around the world, cricket will step forward with the players from England and West Indies joining hands to make a gesture of support.
“There is going to be a gesture shown from us as a team in support of Black Lives Matter towards the equality in society throughout cricket and throughout sport,” Stokes said. “We aren’t in any way shape or form showing support towards any political matters on the movement. We are all about the equality through society and sport.”
Stokes went to lengths to insist that his team merely wanted to make the humanitarian point. “Not only has this been a period for us getting ready for a Test match it has also been great for us to have some educational chats as a team around this which has been really beneficial for a lot of our members,” Stokes said. “I feel as a team that we have an opportunity to send a real powerful message and I am really excited as an individual, and the team is really excited, that we are able to be a part of that.
“Because without the diversity that we have shown as a team over however many years we might not be World Cup champions, we might not be one of the best Test teams in the world. We have a great chance to send a real powerful message and to educate people more on the matter.”
ICC backs resumption of Test cricket
Manu Sawhney, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, stood firmly behind the return of Test cricket in the United Kingdom, and put on record appreciation for the two teams. “We are delighted at the resumption of international cricket with England taking on the West Indies in a Test series beginning tomorrow. I would like to thank the ECB for their tireless efforts in ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety and security of participants,” said Sawhney. “Exactly four months ago to the day, the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final was watched by millions of fans the world over, and we are sure the excitement remains as high. I wish both teams and the match officials the very best for what promises to be an exciting series.”