The long-awaited return of international cricket suffered a frustrating start as rain dominated day one of England’s Test series against the West Indies.
The clash inside the bio-secure bubble at the Ageas Bowl represented the first meeting of any international teams since 13 March, with the previous Test concluding 11 days earlier, but only 17.4 overs were possible as England reached 35 for one.
Dom Sibley will be cursing his fate after falling for a four-ball duck playing no stroke.
After the toss was delayed by three hours, Ben Stokes eventually winning and opting to bat as he officially became England’s 81st Test captain, the sides formed a semi-circle in the middle and stood for two separate silences before taking a knee.
After the coin flip, Stokes confirmed England’s team selection – no Stuart Broad in a home Test for the first time in eight years and a first joint appearance for Jofra Archer and Mark Wood in the five-day format. The wisdom or otherwise of that call will be tested later in the game, with Stokes opting to bat despite the gloomy conditions and ever-present floodlights.
When play did get under way at 2pm the batsmen were immediately rustier than the bowlers, Rory Burns leaving the fourth ball of the morning from Kemar Roach and surviving a strong lbw appeal by a narrow margin on DRS.
Sibley had no such fortune in the second over of the day, also offering no stroke to his fourth delivery but this time paying with his stumps as Shannon Gabriel shaded it in off the pitch.
After waiting the best part of six months to play a shot in anger, he was walking off having declined to do so. As if to compound his frustration another shower forced the players off at the end of the third over.
The second passage of play was even briefer, consisting of just seven balls, one of which Joe Denly mishit just short of mid-on. A third and final burst of activity was possible before bad light and drizzle brought the curtain down for good, during which Burns and Denly ensured no further losses.
Burns, back after rupturing ankle ligaments on the eve of the New Year Test in Cape Town, nudged the first boundary of the season through mid-wicket at 3.35pm and also drilled powerfully past point as he reached 20 not out.
Denly was less at ease, beaten on the outside edge a handful of times and edging Gabriel wide of third slip on nine, but he made his way to 17 not out to give himself another chance to impress on day two.
England assistant coach Graham Thorpe expressed sympathy for Sibley, saying: “It’s unfortunate for Dom at the top. He’s waited a long time, had lots of practice, lots of training, but he’ll be OK. He’s a tough cookie.
Denly is potentially vying with next man Zak Crawley for one place ahead of a notable return for the second Test.
Thorpe added: “I wouldn’t say it’s a straight shootout but guys will know that Joe Root is going to return to the team.
“Individuals can feel a certain amount of pressure but there is pressure in international cricket.”
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