Damp end to four months of mis­ery but game is back

Si­b­ley out for a duck in home de­but as Stokes opts to bat Pa­tient Burns holds on to deny pacy West Indies at­tack

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport First Test - By Nick Hoult Chief CriCket Correspond­ent

Just 82 min­utes of play were pos­si­ble on a land­mark first day of the #raisetheba­t se­ries, which should pos­si­bly be re­named #raisethe­brolly, but at least in­ter­na­tional cricket was back af­ter four months in lock­down.

England bat­tled tough con­di­tions and pacy West In­dian bowl­ing, over­com­ing the loss of Dom Si­b­ley, bowled for nought in the sec­ond over, to reach 35 for one from 17.4 overs be­tween rain and bad light stop­pages.

It was a re­minder that no mat­ter how much de­tailed plan­ning goes into cre­at­ing biose­cure bub­bles, cricket is a game at the mercy of the weather and the grey clouds stub­bornly hung around from when the play­ers peered out of their bed­room win­dows at the Hil­ton ho­tel to when they trudged back to their rooms at the end of the day.

Cricket has not been played any­where in the world since Aus­tralia met New Zealand in Syd­ney on March 13, so hang­ing on for another cou­ple of hours was not a prob­lem, but pity the BBC who have waited two decades to have some Test cricket on tele­vi­sion but had to cut their hour-long high­lights show to just 30 min­utes.

In many ways, the dark skies pro­vided an apt back­drop and summed up the anger of Michael Hold­ing, whose elo­quent, pas­sion­ate sup­port of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment on Sky Sports brought home the re­al­ity of why both sets of play­ers and sup­port staff took a knee be­fore play started.

The West Indies play­ers wore black gloves on their raised clenched right fists, paint­ing a pow­er­ful image of sol­i­dar­ity and there was unity from their England coun­ter­parts who all took a knee as well.

Ben Stokes called the day a “mas­sive oc­ca­sion” for cricket shortly af­ter choos­ing to bat, a de­ci­sion England wa­vered over af­ter see­ing the clouds but stuck with their gut feel­ing, judg­ing the pitch to be dry and to take spin later in the game. It hands Dom Bess a po­ten­tially big­ger say in this match than an­tic­i­pated.

Si­b­ley chose his home de­but to be bowled not play­ing a shot for the first time in his first-class ca­reer. He must have dreamed of walk­ing out to bat for England this sum­mer in front of full houses at Lord’s and the Oval but in­stead it was an empty, ster­ilised Ageas Bowl with its banks of va­cant white plas­tic seats that pro­vided the back­drop for his walk back to the pavil­ion. At least it saved him from the em­bar­rass­ment of the silent treat­ment from sup­port­ers.

With play de­layed un­til 2pm, and the rain fall­ing again just 15 min­utes later, it was a tough day to be an opener. Alas­tair Cook said on Test Match Spe­cial he al­ways found such oc­ca­sions even more drain­ing than a full day at the crease, such is the ten­sion of con­tem­plat­ing go­ing out to bat.

The one thing that was not ab­sent was in­ten­sity. There was lit­tle chance that would hap­pen. In Test cricket bats­men know the pace of Shan­non Gabriel can cause se­vere in­jury. Si­b­ley and Rory Burns were switched on. It was just that Si­b­ley made the kind of judg­ment er­ror that hap­pens against the new ball and fast bowlers.

Gabriel had can­nily set him up bowl­ing a ball that nipped away off the seam fol­lowed by one that was straight and tailed in enough to hit the off stump. England were nought for one for the third time in their last five home Tests and life was start­ing to feel a lit­tle more nor­mal.

Burns could have been out in the first over; he shoul­dered arms at Ke­mar Roach’s fourth ball and should have been given lbw. West

Indies re­ferred the de­ci­sion, an un­der­stand­able gam­ble given teams have three re­views per in­nings in this se­ries, and it was nar­rowly ad­judged um­pires call.

Roach bowled a six-over open­ing spell that cost just two runs, a mas­ter­ful ex­hi­bi­tion of con­trol. It was a tough time to be fight­ing for your Test ca­reer like Joe Denly. He pulled at a short ball from Gabriel that he only toe-ended in the air and was lucky it landed just short of mid on.

Roach is bril­liant bowl­ing to left han­ders and went around the wicket to Burns with four slips and a gully. West Indies at­tacked know­ing this was their chance to force a way into the se­ries.

But a pitch of vari­able pace was slower than West Indies ex­pected and they dragged their lengths back, eas­ing the pres­sure.

Burns waited for the bowlers to er­ror in line, pa­tiently back­ing his de­fence be­fore cap­i­tal­is­ing on any­thing stray­ing on to the on side. Burns looks com­fort­able as a Test player now. Denly will be hop­ing to em­u­late him today when the weather should be bet­ter and the sum­mer can prop­erly get un­der way.

Shaky start: Dom Si­b­ley is bowled for nought by Shan­non Gabriel on his home de­but (above), but Rory Burns (left) looked as­sured in his un­beaten 20

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