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After 117 days, cricket's return marred by rain

Only 17.4 overs play was possible on the opening day of the first Test between England and West Indies

PHOTO: AFP

International cricket resumed after a four-month coronavirus shutdown on Wednesday as England and West Indies players, who rekindled the powerful imagery of clenched fists inside black gloves, took a knee under grey skies in Southampton in support of the global campaign against racial injustice

Only 82 minutes' play was possible on a day marred by rain and bad light interruptions after weeks of glorious sunshine in Britain.

The players gathered in a semi-circle on the pitch before play started to observe a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the coronavirus and West Indies great Everton Weekes, who died last week at the age of 95.

They then dropped to one knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign following the death in the United States of George Floyd in May.

West Indies players wore black gloves on their right hands in an echo of the "Black Power" protests made famous by US athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Both teams are wearing BLM logos on their shirts during the three-match series.

Jason Holder forgets no handshake practice

England stand-in captain Ben Stokes won the toss after bad weather meant the morning session was washed out.

West Indies captain Jason Holder almost forgot the no handshakes rule, when he reached out to shake hands with Stokes after losing the toss.

“You can’t do that, never mind just sanitize those hands,” said the broadcaster who was not present in the ground but was conducting the toss through cameras and microphones.

 

Sanitise those hands, @benstokes38! 💦

England's captain wins the toss and chooses to bat in a new-look toss as Test cricket returns. 🏏

Watch live on Sky Sports Cricket now or follow here: https://t.co/ZUqX1InU7t pic.twitter.com/rp8ShsKcC5

— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 8, 2020

 

Closed doors

All three Tests are taking place behind closed doors at "bio-secure" grounds, with the first at the Ageas Bowl and the second two at Old Trafford.

When play eventually started, England lost Dom Sibley off the 10th ball, when he was bowled for a duck by Shannon Gabriel after not playing a shot.

England were then none for one but had moved on to 35 for one when, after two rain stoppages, bad light forced an early tea even though the floodlights were on.

Recalled opener Rory Burns was 20 not out and Joe Denly 14 not out when play was finally abandoned for the day at 6:11 pm (1711 GMT).

Stokes, standing in for Joe Root, who is missing the first Test due to the birth of his second child, spoke of the excitement ahead of the restart of cricket.

"I know everybody has been craving this, certainly from a players' point of view but I also think from a spectators' and fans' view," he said on Tuesday. "This is a massive occasion for a lot of people."

But the skipper said the lack of a crowd was no reason for England to let their standards slip.

"We know we have that responsibility on our shoulders, to go out and do justice for all those people," he added.

Players and officials are staying at on-site hotels to stop the spread of COVID-19 and bowlers are not allowed to use saliva to shine the ball as part of strict measures to control the spread of the virus.

Praise for administrators

West Indies coach Phil Simmons praised administrators for staging the series.

"It's a huge blueprint for how cricket can move forward," said Simmons, whose side quarantined and trained at Old Trafford from June 9 before travelling south.

"We're about to show that other places can start putting things together. The England and Wales Cricket Board have to be commended for all the work they have done to get the series on the road and let's see what other countries take from it."

England left out veteran paceman Stuart Broad, their second most successful Test bowler behind James Anderson, who did start, as well as Chris Woakes.

West Indies omitted specialist spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, with batsman Roston Chase to provide some slow bowling in support of a four-man pace attack of Kemar Roach, Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and captain Jason Holder.

West Indies have not won a Test series in England since 1988, but they hold the Wisden Trophy after a 2-1 series win in the Caribbean last year.