The first cricket ball of the season is FINALLY bowled on July 1… as England players warm up for next week’s West Indies Test with a game between themselves in Southampton
- England’s Test squad are taking part in a squad practice match over three days
- A side captained by Ben Stokes are taking on a team captained by Jos Buttler
- Saqib Mahmood bowled four byes in the first delivery to batsman Rory Burns
- Stokes will captain England against West Indies next week in Joe Root’s absence
Saqib Mahmood and Rory Burns kicked off England’s first day of competitive cricket since March 13, as a Ben Stokes XI took the field against a side captained by Jos Buttler at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Mahmood was handed the opening over at Burns and got the three-day warm-up under way with a loosener that sailed for four byes down the leg-side, with James Anderson also bowling on the opening morning.
The very sight of the country’s leading red-ball players competing again, for the first time since abandoning their tour of Sri Lanka as the coronavirus pandemic took hold more than three months ago, was a major boost for all the nation’s cricket fans.
Saqib Mahmood bowls four byes in the first delivery during the three-day practice match
James Anderson was back in England whites for the first time since the winter tours
Mahmood bowls at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday morning as players fight for Test selection
Stokes will captain next week’s first Test against the West Indies in the absence of Joe Root – who has left the group to attend the birth of his second child – with Buttler serving as his vice-captain.
Root’s wife Carrie is due to give birth later this week and, with the strict protocols in place to ensure the series takes place in a ‘bio-secure’ environment, he will need to be isolated from the group for at least a week on his return from hospital.
That means Stokes will be the man to lead the team out at the Ageas Bowl on July 8, having never before taken the reins in first-class cricket.
This week though, Stokes and Buttler are leading rival teams as 27 players jostle for selection.
The first Test match between England and the West Indies starts next Wednesday, in the unusual behind closed doors surroundings on the south coast.
The two teams will then play two more Test matches at Old Trafford in Manchester, to conclude the revised three-test series.