It is difficult to think of too many times that the first Test series of an English summer has felt so momentous. This particular edition of the Wisden Trophy is undoubtedly the most significant in my lifetime, but its impact will stretch far beyond the English shores on which it is set to take place.
Cricket fans around the world will likely pay closer attention to the series than they otherwise might have; our beloved sport is returning to the international stage, with the players lucky enough to be involved set to be a part of much more than just another Test series. As the first international fixture any sport has been able to offer since lockdown began over a hundred days ago, this Test series represents yet another milestone on the road to normality.
Look beyond all things covid, however, and there’s even more to consider from a contextual point of view. While sports leagues across the world have already offered their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, this will be cricket’s first opportunity to do so. Both teams will wear the Black Lives Matter logo for this month’s Tests, and what better way to make a stand than with a tour of the West Indies? The logos, the statements, and the soundbites may well be comparatively small steps compared with what is required, but it all matters. That England and the West Indies will both wear the logos as a badge of honour during the upcoming Test series is certainly another step in the right direction.
What about the cricket?
Aside from the wider global context, we also have got a fascinating series on our hands. The BBC has recently been showing some Wisden Trophy classics, with England’s resurgence towards the end of the twentieth century ending years of Caribbean dominance. Recent history has been far kinder to England, but our tourists have shown plenty over the past two series to suggest that we may well have a tight contest on our hands. They came out on top in the Caribbean in 2019, while victory at Headingley back in 2017 ensured that series was far tighter than initially looked likely.
Most cricket enthusiasts will point you straight to the quick bowlers as the potential point of difference between the two sides, and they wouldn’t be far off. How each side’s top order plays the other’s opening bowlers will go a long way to deciding the final result. England need to decide who bats at three and four, while the Windies will look to Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope – the hero of Leeds three years ago – to give their bowlers something to work with.
Both sides have elected for at least one practice game over the past two weeks and, although these affairs are hardly likely to pick the playing XIs outright, the unusual absence of form for all top-level athletes in recent months could place more importance on them than is normal. England seem likely to choose their top four from around six contenders, while much has been made of Jason Holder’s lack of runs for the tourists. Rotation looks set to be far more important than usual, too, with three Tests in the space of three weeks represented something of a packed schedule. Sure, cricket is rather notorious for that, but the lack of competitive cricket in every player’s legs makes these quick turnarounds even more testing.
Exactly who lines up at the Ageas Bowl is yet to be decided, but one thing is for sure: cricket’s back, and we’re really happy about it – even if we can’t be in the stands cheering England on!