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
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