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The newly-formed opening pair of Dom Bess and Rory Burns will be put to test by the likes of Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach. Joe Denly should bat at No. 3 with Zak Crawly slotting in at No.5

No usage of saliva to shine the ball, no neutral umpires, more DRS per innings, no handshakes or high-fives as England and West Indies gear-up to usher in the new dawn of Test cricket as international matches return after a gap of more nearly four months at Southampton on Wednesday. The England vs West Indies first Test match at Ageas Bowl in Southampton is about much more than just cricket.

A smoothly run Test series, played in a strict isolated environment featuring repeated Covid-19 testing and social distancing, can lay the blueprint for future matches and tours in cricket but also for other sports targeting a resumption.

“If you get one thing wrong, it might blow this whole ‘getting sport back onto the radar’ further back,” England stand-in captain Ben Stokes said on Tuesday in his eve-of-game news conference.

A ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo will be on the collar of the Test shirts worn by players from both teams and there is set to be a “gesture” made by the teams before the game. West Indies players have said the movement is a source of motivation on this tour.

“Not only has this been a period for us getting ready for a test match,” Stokes said, “it has also been great for us to have educational chats as a team around this and it has been really beneficial for a lot of our members. Players from the two teams will come into vaguely close contact with each other only on the field of play.”

TV viewers will have the choice of adding a so-called “Lord’s hum” during coverage, but there will be no artificial crowd noise in the ground or music between overs, ensuring an eerie silence once the match begins except for selective announcements over the public address system about things such as milestones or bowling changes.

The big screens around the venue will show key highlights, DRS and sponsor messages.

England Predicted XI

With no Joe Root in the side, England’s batting line-up looks pale on paper. The newly-formed opening pair of Dom Bess and Rory Burns will be put to test by the likes of Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach. Joe Denly should bat at No. 3 with Zak Crawly slotting in at No.5

All eyes, however, will be on stand-in captain and perhaps one of the mainstays of the England batting-line up Ben Stokes. Ollie Pope at No.6 would be an ideal foil for Stokes aggressive batting while Jos Buttler at No.7 will take the specialist wicket-keeper’s position.

The bowling department, however, is where the problem of plenty lies for England. They have their best fast bowlers fit and ready but considering the nature of the Ageas Bowl wicket, there might be room to only pick three. James Anderson and Jofra Archer pick themselves, the battle for the third seamer therefore will come down between the seasoned Stuart Broad and the talented Chris Woakes. Reports suggest that Broad is likely to miss the first Test due to tactical reasons.

England (predicted XI): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Joe Denly, 4 Zak Crawley, 5 Ben Stokes (capt), 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Chris Woakes 11 James Anderson.

West Indies Predicted XI

It might surprise a few but West Indies have a rather settled line-up in the longest form of the game. Kraigg Braithwaite at the top of the order is a solid opener. He will be partnered by John Campbell. At No.3 they have the talented Shamarh Brooks, who had scored an attractive ton in West Indies’ last Test against Afghanistan. At No.4 West Indies have Shai Hope, who is arguably their best batsman at the moment and he would draw confidence from his twin centuries in Headingley the last time he came here.

Roston Chase will bat at No.5 followed by wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich who is coming back from an injury. The No.7 spot belongs to Jason Holder, who is also one of the best all-rounders going around in world cricket.

Rahkeem Cornwall’s off-spin can be handy at Ageas Bowl, especially when the match goes into the fourth and fifth day. Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, and Alzarri Joseph will form the pace attack of West Indies.

West Indies (Predicted XI): 1 John Campbell, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Shamarh Brooks, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Rahkeem Cornwall, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel.

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