England-Windies opener a new frontier

Afp, London

6 July, 2020 12:00 AM printer

It will be Test cricket but not as we've known it when England face the West Indies in the opening match of a "bio-secure" series at Southampton starting on Wednesday.

With the coronavirus pandemic having brought the world game to a halt in March, there were fears this three-Test campaign might also fall victim to COVID-19.

But, with the West Indies agreeing to go ahead despite Britain's virus death toll of over 44,000 being the highest in Europe, the series is set to mark cricket's return from lockdown instead. However, a number of anti-virus measures mean next week's match will look like few others in 143 years of Test-match history.

For a start, both sides will be staying at on-site hotels at Southampton's Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford in Manchester -- the venue for the second and third Tests -- in a series originally scheduled for elsewhere in England in June.

England have already settled in at the Ageas Bowl, where they played a three-day intra-squad match this week as the West Indies continued their preparations at Old Trafford.

Mark Wood, the England fast bowler, said the environment, "feels a bit like a sci-fi movie", with players subjected to repeated health checks.

"There is hand sanitiser at every turn, and on the floor there are arrows, lines and footprints to show the way to go," Wood told the BBC.

He added meal times were "like being back at school", with players at individual desks "looking at the back of the person in front".

But perhaps the most visible change will be the lack of any spectators. For while sparse crowds are not unknown in Test cricket -- particularly when Pakistan play 'home' games in the United Arab Emirates -- this series will be a completely behind closed doors affair.

That does help officials to honour lucrative broadcast contracts and so eliminate a 'nightmare scenario' of no cricket at all this season that, according to its own estimates, could cost the England and Wales Cricket Board £252 million ($309 million).