A new chapter will be added to cricket history on July 8 when England takes on the West Indies in the first of a three-match Test series behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl and Manchester’s Old Trafford are the two grounds that have been turned into bio-secure zones as international cricket eyes a return for the first time since March, when all action was shut down because of the crippling COVID-19 crisis.
For the players, it has been a novel experience. They’ve never quite had such a prolonged break from the sport, and to some, like English Test captain Joe Root, the layoff was an opportunity to tie up loose ends.
“It is a chance that you don’t often get in international cricket where you have an extended period of time to work on certain aspects of your game...break skills down, work on your technique,” said Root in a Facebook Live session with
Sony Sports .
“I remember the first net session. I was really surprised how well it went... The second net session was a bit different. I almost took a backward step... A bit of a realisation that it isn’t always as easy as that, having spent such a long layoff, but it has been really enjoyable. You normally move from an ODI (One-Day International) series straight into a Test series, so it’s more of a mental adjustment. But here, you have a chance to iron out technical kinks.”
Managing the workload of his fast bowlers is going to be key, Root believes. The 29-year-old spoke of the importance of his bowlers having maximum impact in Test matches. One of those is Jofra Archer, who, in his short career so far, has 30 wickets from seven Tests at an economy rate of 3.00. Earlier this year, the Barbados-born pacer suffered a stress fracture in the right elbow that curtailed his involvement in the tour to South Africa.
“Jofra has a very important part to play in England’s future in Test cricket. He is a phenomenal talent and we must look after him and his body if we want to see him playing international cricket for as long as possible... You don’t want to rob people of the entertainment that he brings to the sport,” said Root.
“Workload management of the fast bowlers is something we have become more and more aware of... You have to make sure you are not making them prone to injuries. With this extended period, guys who have had injuries have been able to recover and get themselves fit. That said, the workload will be constantly monitored throughout the series. Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of talented bowlers and several combinations which will work in English conditions. You want a squad that has depth so that there are seamless changes,” he added.
The International Cricket Council’s interim rule changes will come into effect with the first Test in Southampton. One of the single-most talked about rules has been the ban on use of saliva to shine the ball. Root said the temporary restriction might favour the batsmen, while allaying concerns that it could lead to a lopsided advantage. “I don’t think it’ll change a huge amount here... It depends on the conditions... If it’s a bit more overcast — there hasn’t been much cricket played — the squares and outfield should be lush. The damage to the Dukes ball doesn’t take effect till about 50 overs... It should swing consistently anyway... They stay harder than the Kookaburra balls and swing consistently longer.
“I can’t see the saliva ban having as much of an impact at the start of the summer. I think as the summer goes on, if we get good weather and the square becomes a little more abrasive, the reverse swing may play a part. The batsmen will have to be managed well by both sides.”
Root has also thrown his support behind all-rounder Ben Stokes as stand-in skipper, saying he is more than “well-equipped” to do a really good job.
“He trains as hard as anyone else in the squad and he sets the examples... That’s a great quality to have. You see some of the other leaders around the world who do exactly that, Virat (Kohli) being one...goes out there, performs and expects everyone else within the team to do the same... I imagine that’s how Ben will go about his business.”
“...He is already a big leader in the team as vice-captain and it will be an opportunity for him to show everyone the leadership qualities we as a side already know he has... There is a huge amount of respect for him. He has accomplished so much in the game and within Test cricket.”
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