England v West Indies: Headbands, raw pace and more as cricket resumes behind closed doors

Here's what to expect when the first Test begins in Southampton on Wednesday

Are we all sufficiently sick of the term “new normal” yet?

Even before the first ball has been bowled in the return of international cricket season, it is grating.

Can we just get back to a little bit of just normal normal, please?

A Ben Stokes snarl. A Shannon Gabriel no ball. Joe Denly digging in. Mark Wood’s imaginary horse. The Decision Review System.

Perhaps not quite yet. After all, there will be plenty of intrigue when two members of cricket's old establishment meet again as its oldest format returns on Wednesday, under a variety of modified playing conditions.

These are a few of the things to look out for when England and West Indies break ground on biosecure international cricket.

No celebrations

Jim Laker celebrated taking 19 wickets in one Ashes Test by hitching up his trousers and walking off, giving into vanity only to doff his cap to the crowd.

Cricketers have become much more tactile in the time since, but will be forced back in time to a socially distant old normal for the time being.

A hat trick? A double century? All will have to be toasted with nothing more giddy than an elbow or foot bump, followed perhaps by three cheers and a rendition of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

Headbands

Given that barbers were, in fact, given the green light to return to business in the recent days in the UK, the players might actually turn up on Wednesday with some freshly shorn locks.

Or they might stick with what they have got used to in recent times.

Each of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Chris Woakes, among others, have had their hair trussed up in headbands in the lead-up to the series.

Like being in Dubai

It is very possible the behind-closed-doors Test matches in the UK this summer might have more people at them than many of the open Test matches that have been in Dubai down the years.

England remains the one country where – under normal circumstances – Test matches are well attended.

So, while we in the UAE might be used to being able to hear ourselves think at Tests, the players themselves could end up feeling a little lonely.

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Players who will shape cricket on its return

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'Sanitised' swing

Using saliva to polish the ball, as has been widely documented, will be prohibited.

ICC medical guidelines, though, do state that it is highly unlikely that the virus can be transmitted through sweat.

So players can use that, “whilst recommending that enhanced hygiene measures are implemented on and around the playing field”.

That will include hand-sanitiser outlets around the field. Any value in a surreptitious rub of that on the shiny side to get the ball hooping?

Actual cricket

International cricket’s first post-Covid 19 series pits the fourth-ranked Test side, England, against West Indies, who are eighth. So not exactly box-office stuff, on the face of it.

There is plenty of reason for optimism, though. England felt like they turned a corner by winning in South Africa in the winter, while they also have a score to settle with their guests, after losing in the Caribbean last time out.

All-round battle

The world’s best allrounder is? Jason Holder, actually, according to the ICC Test rankings for players.

Stokes rarely needs any additional incentive to get him into the mood for competition, but the battle between the opposing captains in the first Test should provide a neat little subplot.

Pace aces

Batsmen might be the worse off for the lack of proper match practice since lockdown.

Never mind the quality of the bowling attacks they will be faced with this summer – what about the speed of them?

Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Olly Stone, Kemar Roach, Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Oshane Thomas, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammed Hasnain could all see game time this summer.

Pity the batsmen.

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