Dubai: International cricket resumed following the coronavirus outbreak as West Indies speedster Kemar Roach bowled the first ball when play eventually started after a prolonged rain delay in the first Test between England and West Indies at Ageas Bowl in Southampton. England had won the toss and chosen to bat, though it remains to be seen how much would be eventually possible.
Seamer Stuart Broad was left out of a home Test match for the first time since 2012 on Wednesday as England opted for pace against the West Indies in the first international cricket match to be played since the COVID-19 outbreak.
England are captained in the first Test by Ben Stokes, standing in for Joe Root, whose wife has just had a baby. Stokes won the delayed toss and, under overcast skies, opted to bat.
James Anderson returns after injury but his regular partner Broad misses out, as does Chris Woakes, as high-speed duo Mark Wood and Jofra Archer spearhead the attack.
“We feel with Woody and Jofra’s pace it adds another dimension,” said Stokes, who just managed to stop himself shaking the hand of West Indies skipper Jason Holder - the world’s number one ranked Test all-rounder - who said he would have bowled had he won the toss.
The teams are meeting in a “bio-secure environment” at Southampton’s Ageas bowl with daily health checks for everyone in the ground - which doesn’t include fans. It is 117 days since England’s warm-up match in Sri Lanka was abandoned due to the COVID-19 threat and no cricket has been played since.
England’s players have the names of key workers in the frontline of COVID-19 on their training shirts. Stokes, whose kit bears the name of Dr Vikas Kumar, a specialist in anaesthetics and critical care, said: “We’re only able to play this match because of the amazing job that key workers up and down the country have done to help us through this pandemic.”
The 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.
The match referee is Chris Broad - father of England’s sidelined bowler Stuart.
Players are not allowed to use saliva to polish the ball and umpires will not take jumpers and caps from bowlers.