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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 January 2021

West Indies arrival in England for Test series a welcome boost for international cricket

Caribbean nation will face their hosts over three matches in July amid strict measures during the coronavirus pandemic

International cricket will start to get back on its feet following the coronavirus shutdown when the West Indies arrive on Tuesday for a Test series in England.

The three-match contest was originally meant to be played in June but will now start on July 8 instead because of the pandemic.

Fans who have had to make do with months of television repeats can now look forward to the real thing again. But rather than games before crowds at the Oval, Edgbaston and Lord's, a now back-to-back series will take place behind closed doors at the more 'bio-secure' Ageas Bowl in Southampton and Manchester's Old Trafford.

Whereas players usually spend evenings during a Test away from the ground, they will now instead find themselves in a protective bubble at two venues which both have onsite hotels.

The Ageas Bowl will stage the series opener from July 8, with the next two Tests at Old Trafford.

Health measures, including a ban on applying saliva to the ball to aid swing set to be rubber-stamped at an International Cricket Council meeting on Wednesday, and repeated virus testing will be in place.

"Our main objective is to deliver a safe environment for all stakeholders," said England and Wales Cricket Board events director Steve Elworthy.

Yet there is no escaping the financial impact of the virus.

Going ahead with major matches is seen as vital, with the ECB estimating it could lose £252 million (Dh1.17 billion) if there are no fixtures this summer.

The West Indies, who hold the Wisden Trophy after beating England in the Caribbean last year, have selected a 25-strong squad made up of 14 first-choice players and 11 travelling reserves.

They will complete a 14-day quarantine period, combined with initial training, during several weeks at Old Trafford before heading south from Manchester for the first Test.

Despite the ECB's efforts, three West Indies players – Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul – declined to tour, with Cricket West Indies insisting it will not hold this against them when it comes to future selection.

Bravo and Hetmyer's absence deprives the tourists of two top-order batsman, while Paul was a back-up for fast-bowling all-rounder Jason Holder, the West Indies captain.

It was a point emphasised by CWI chief selector Roger Harper, who said at last week's squad announcement: "I expect that the bowling unit will once again provide a serious challenge for England and our batting will have to deliver."

But it could be Root who is the most significant absentee from the first Test as the England captain's wife is expected to give birth to the couple's second child in the first week of July.

Root plans to attend the birth but that may mean he has to then self-isolate for seven days, putting a question mark against his participation at Southampton.

Published: June 9, 2020 12:45 PM

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