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Cricket's long-awaited return marred by rain and bad light
Day One Report

Cricket's long-awaited return marred by rain and bad light

Unpleasant weather conditions restricted play during the momentous occasion of the return of international cricket following a four-month coronavirus-induced hiatus as England crawled to 35-1 on the first day of the opening Test against West Indies.

While cricketing action was due to be the center of attention, perhaps the highlight in Southampton's Ageas Bowl under grey skies was the players and match officials' act of taking a knee in support of the anti-racism campaign.

All the players on the field and outside the boundary rope dropped to one knee to support the movement against racial injustice in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd - an African-American man who was killed in police custody in the USA.

In addition to both teams donning jerseys with the "Black Lives Matter" logo imprinted on the collars, West Indies players wore black gloves that they raised in the form of a clenched fist in an echo of the "Black Power" protests.

Ahead of the start of play, the players also observed a moment of silence in the memory of West Indies cricket legend Sir Everton Weekes, who passed away last week.

Only 82 minutes of play was possible in the entire day owing to frequent rain delays and interruptions due to inadequate light. This familiar English weather contrasted the consistent sunshine in the past few weeks across Britain.

England skipper Ben Stokes, who assumed the leadership responsibilities in the absence of Joe Root, won the toss and elected to bat first in overcast conditions.

Making several changes to the team that triumphed in South Africa earlier this year, England opted for the surprising exclusion of veteran Stuart Broad in order to allow pace duo Jofra Archer and Mark Wood to operate in tandem.

Chris Woakes also missed out as England went with Dom Bess as the sole specialist spinner in the playing XI.

On the other hand, West Indies went with their usual four-pronged pace attack, omitting off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, who had a successful outing in his previous Test against Afghanistan.

England's decision to bat first threatened to backfire immediately as Shannon Gabriel's booming in-swinger rattled the stumps of opening batsman Dom Sibley.

An error in judgment saw Sibley shoulder his arms to the delivery that travelled back in extensively as he trudged back to the pavilion with no contribution to his side's score.

England's innings was then stabilised by the solid Rory Burns and Joe Denly's watchful style of play as they avoided any further losses despite close encounters with the moving ball.

Two rain stoppages meant the players had to take an early tea with Burns unbeaten on 20 while Denly taking his total to 14 not out.

The match, taking place without spectators to curb the spread of the virus, was marked by eerie silence around the ground as players appeared cognizant of the social distancing measures and tried to follow the safety protocols.

Downplaying the negative impact of no fans in the stadium, Stokes shed light on the excitement of finally witnessing competitive cricket's return.

"I know everybody has been craving this, certainly from a players' point of view but I also think from a spectators' and fans' view," he said.

"This is a massive occasion for a lot of people."

"We know we have that responsibility on our shoulders, to go out and do justice for all those people," he added.

A minor 'mishap' at the toss offered some comic relief to the commentary panel and viewers alike as Stokes' fistbump was met by his counterpart Jason Holder's handshake before the two quickly backed out of the awkward exchange and burst into laughter.

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