England, West Indies take a knee as rain spoils international cricket's return
England and West Indie players as well as match umpire 'take a knee' in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on the first day of the first Test between England and the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. AFP
International cricket resumed after a four-month coronavirus shutdown on Wednesday as England and West Indies players, who rekindled the powerful imagery of clenched fists inside black gloves, took a knee under grey skies in Southampton in support of the global campaign against racial injustice.
Only 82 minutes' play was possible on a day marred by rain and bad light interruptions after weeks of glorious sunshine in Britain. England stand-in captain Ben Stokes, leading the side while Joe Root was on family duty following the birth of his second child, won the toss after bad weather meant the morning session was washed out.
The players gathered in a semi-circle on the pitch before play started to observe a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the coronavirus and West Indies great Everton Weekes, who died last week at the age of 95.
They then dropped to one knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign following the death in the United States of George Floyd in May. West Indies players wore black gloves on their right hands in an echo of the "Black Power" protests made famous by US athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
"It was a great moment, showing something we stand for and that racism has no part in cricket," West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, who took the only wicket to fall on Wednesday, told the BBC.
Meanwhile, West Indies assistant coach Roddy Estwick told reporters: "We felt like we wanted to do something different, we felt if we wanted to make a bigger statement we should wear the black glove and it worked as people are talking about it. "That was our way of showing our support to the Black Lives Matter campaign."
England batting coach Graham Thorpe added: "It's important to show solidarity with the West Indies. The bottom line is we feel there is no room for racism in the sport." Both teams are wearing BLM logos on their shirts during the three-match series, taking place behind closed doors at "bio-secure" grounds, with the first at the Ageas Bowl and the second two at Old Trafford.
There was an awkward moment after the toss when Stokes avoided the traditional handshake from opposing captain Jason Holder, a move prohibited under the special COVID-19 regulations applying to this series.
Even more awkward for England was when opener Dom Sibley fell for a four-ball duck, bowled by Gabriel after playing no shot to leave them none for one. "It's unfortunate for Dom," said former England batsman Thorpe. "But he's a tough cookie. He'll be okay."
England, however, had moved on to 35 for one when, after two rain stoppages and bad light -- a problem even though the floodlights were on -- play was finally abandoned for the day at 1711 GMT. Rory Burns was 20 not out and Joe Denly 14 not out.
Players and officials are staying at on-site hotels to stop the spread of COVID-19, with bowlers not allowed to use saliva to shine the ball. And for all the bizarre circumstances, Thorpe was just delighted to see England back playing cricket against a West Indies side who have gone ahead with the series even though more than 44,000 people in Britain have died during the pandemic. "It's a massive thing," said Thorpe. "We've come a long way, having the West Indies over here."
England left out veteran paceman Stuart Broad as they opted to include express quicks Jofra Archer and Mark Wood alongside James Anderson, their most successful Test bowler. West Indies omitted specialist spinner Rahkeem Cornwall as they selected a four-man pace attack of Kemar Roach, Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Holder.
West Indies have not won a Test series in England since 1988, but they hold the Wisden Trophy after a 2-1 series win in the Caribbean last year.