It’s cricket’s turn to join the sporting comeback trail this week as Test matches return with England against the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
The Test marks the start of England’s summer, with a trio of Tests and T20s against Pakistan plus a three-match ODI series versus Ireland to follow, taking us through to September. Will it be a winning start? Here are three key things to watch out for as cricket makes its long-awaited return…
Can England cope with Root’s absence?
Skipper Joe Root will miss this Test to be at the birth of his second child, so England’s hero from 2019 Ben Stokes steps up.
Stokes enjoyed a sensational summer last year, famously guiding England to victory in the World Cup Final over New Zealand, before a sterling 135 not out at Headingley to turn the tide in the Ashes.
He became a household name last year, and if he’s bringing his 2019 form to Southampton, the West Indies might find it difficult to contain the stand-in England captain.
But Root’s absence could have implications for England’s batting higher up the order. An opening quartet of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Joe Denly lacks experience, and a talented West Indies attack will try to take advantage.
Can Dom Bess make an impact?
While Stokes has a full roster of pace attack to work with, there’ll be plenty of intrigue as to how Dom Bess gets on this week.
The 22-year-old spin-bowler got the nod ahead of Jack Leach and Moeen Ali, after impressing with a five-wicket haul in the South Africa tour back in January. This will be only Bess’ fifth Test appearance however, will he be able to whittle through the West Indies order?
Will the West Indies last five days?
Cricket legend Brian Lara doesn’t think so. The West Indies talisman has said this week that he believes the tourists’ best chance is to come out fighting, and try to win the Test in four days.
And he may have a point. The West Indies boast plenty of pace and power in attack, but they’ve struggled with the bat in recent years, with their line-up averaging less than 24 in 19 Tests since 2017.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.