Rain delays international cricket's return in England-West Indies Test
Groundstaff wearing a face mask pull the covers on as rain delays the start of play on the first day of the first Test between England and the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. AFP
Rain meant there was no play before lunch on Wednesday's opening day of the first Test between England and the West Indies at Southampton, the first international cricket match since March.
The eagerly anticipated fixture marks the sport's global return from months of coronavirus-enforced lockdown. The last Test match, between New Zealand and India, concluded on March 2, six days before the final of the Women's T20 World Cup in Australia.
But as the players warmed up on the outfield under grey skies, there was sufficient rain for the Ageas Bowl pitch to remain fully covered and prevent the toss taking place at 0930 GMT as scheduled. English umpires Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth announced an early lunch at 1130 GMT, 30 minutes before the scheduled interval.
No spectators are allowed to attend the three-Test series, which concludes with two matches at Old Trafford. Players and officials are staying at on-site hotels to stop the spread of COVID-19. Bowlers are not allowed to use saliva to shine the ball.
International travel restrictions mean that, for the first time since 2002, both on-field umpires came from the host nation. Match referee Chris Broad could find himself presiding over a match involving his son Stuart if the England paceman is selected in the final XI.
But any disciplinary issues are set to be referred to a remote referee. Ben Stokes is captaining England for the first time, with regular skipper Joe Root missing the match because of the birth of his second child. 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.
Jason Holder's side have gone ahead with the tour even though Britain has the highest virus toll in Europe, with more than 44,000 deaths. The England-West Indies Tests have been named the #raisethebat series in honour of key workers across Britain involved in tackling the pandemic.
Boundary boards on the perimeter of the pitch at Hampshire's headquarters, also displayed the name of Everton Weekes, the great West Indies batsman who died last week at the age of 95.