Test cricket returns Wednesday when England incorporates the West Indies into the biologically safe bubble of the Ageas Bowl.
Here former English captain Nasser Hussain and former English coach David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd answer the big questions ahead of a long-awaited series of three tests.
England’s game between teams in an empty Ageas Bowl in Southampton last week
How different will this series be for everyone involved?
Nasser Hussain: It’s hugely important because the world’s eyes will be on this test to see how cricket deals with Covid and what goes with it.
The players will have to buy it – the social distance, the lack of saliva on the ball and the lack of crowds. We could all emphasize what won’t be there, but I think everyone is just thankful for live Test cricket.
As commentators, we will check in on Tuesday and not leave the bubble until the end of the test. We will comment from a distance and maybe even go back to our hotel rooms in between to watch the game from our balconies.
We are going to give people the opportunity to create public noise in the form of the hum of a Lord.
David Lloyd: The terrain will be empty, but the West Indies are used to playing a lot of tests with very little in it. That’s not to say there won’t be huge interest. We will be working in isolation as commentators, so we cannot feed anyone else and there will be hardly anyone in the box, but I will look at my monitor and just continue my work.
The players will have to buy in the changes that Covid-19 will have in the game
Do you have any concerns about Test cricket in this area?
Bumble: I was very scared to work in this environment, but I can honestly say I changed my mind. I’ve had so many zoom conversations with Sky and the ECB that I’m very happy now.
I have been told that I am in the safest area in the country. I don’t do Southampton but when we go to Manchester I stay in the bubble and go home after the test even though I live alone on the road. We have a duty to get this show on the road and I want to play my part.
Nasser: Nothing beats the crowd interaction, so of course we want to go back to normality, but for now this will have to do it and we’ve seen you get used to it with football.
And the players play for their country, so nothing changes for them. The Wisden Trophy is up for grabs and no one will remember in the coming years that there was no audience.
Both Nasser Hussain (left) and David Lloyd (center) are confident that it is a safe environment
Would you have done something different with the English team?
Nasser: The selectors did a good job of showing confidence in the players who did so well in South Africa. If this match had taken place just after Johannesburg, would there have been changes? I do not think so.
But I’m glad they showed on their reserve list that players will be pushed for their seats. In Dan Lawrence, Ollie Robinson and James Bracey, England have three newcomers that are challenging and it’s a big game for Zak Crawley and Joe Denly as Joe Root returns in Manchester.
Denly reminds me of James Vince. He looks great and then gets out. He has to convert these 30s and 40s into hundreds.
Bumble: I would have done differently. Zak Crawley is a very good player, but he is an opener and it looks like he hits at four. Jonny Bairstow has six Test hundreds and in the warm-up game he hit at four o’clock. Now he doesn’t even make the reserves and I find that very strange.
Yes, he achieved an average of 18 years in 2019. But England got the chance to get him back in shape and they didn’t take it. They have also said that he is not the second goalkeeper either, but I think his tracking has continued by leaps and bounds.
If England wanted a No. 4 other than Bairstow, what about Lawrence? He is a No. 4! Again, this was an opportunity to play a boy who is going to be a test player. And Lawrence is a test player, no doubt about it.
Jonny Bairstow warmed up at four o’clock, but is not even reaching the reserves now
Who would you leave out of England 13 and expect to see a lot of rotation?
Bumble: Of the 13 they chose, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood don’t play. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are playing. Jofra Archer is playing and they will rotate it with Wood.
I am sure that would have been explained to them. If you have strength like England, you don’t lose anything. I expect an unprecedented rotation in this series.
Nasser: This is more difficult. Much will be made of the initial test selection, but the bowlers will be rotated. I would start with Anderson and Broad because they deserve it. Then I left out Woakes and chose one from Wood of Archer.
I would probably go for Wood because he bowled really well in his last two tests in South Africa, but Archer is a serious bowler so I wouldn’t have a problem with him instead.
Bowler Mark Wood performed very well in his last two English tests in South Africa
Will Stokes succeed where Botham and Flintoff weren’t captain?
Nasser: It is unfair to say that Stokes does not, because Botham and Flintoff did not. I would only worry about his workload if he ever became a full-time captain. The England captain always weighs people.
A one-time test is fine. Ben has a fantastic cricket brain and he will be offensive and smart. It will be clear who is in charge.
Bumble: Ben Stokes is an impressive guy and a huge team player. Without being detrimental to Beefy or Freddie, he is also as fit as they come and has enormous discipline.
This team will run through brick walls for him and he has three very good lieutenants in Jos Buttler, Anderson and Broad.
Ben knows he’s replacing Joe Root. He is very loyal. He will not push for the job full time.
Ben Stokes will lead the side of skipper Joe Root with his family
What threat do the West Indies pose and who will play the leading role?
Bumble: They reappear. They have an excellent captain in Jason Holder, which is important, and they have the right backroom people: Jimmy Adams and Phil Simmons as cricket and coach directors. They will have a powerful attack and I am intrigued to see if Rahkeem plays Cornwall. It is one-off.
Nasser: They are a threat, especially bowling. With Shannon Gabriel alongside Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Holder (left), no one will get easy runs.
But the batting looks thin without Darren Bravo or Shimron Hetmyer. Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite will have to repeat their Headingley shape from last time.
Jason Holder was impressive. How high do you rate him?
Nasser: One thing I do know about Holder and this West Indian side – if they have a point to prove, they are doubly dangerous. You just have to see their reaction to comments from Colin Graves and Geoff Boycott in recent times, or go back to Tony Greig. When I interviewed Jason for Sportsmail, I walked away and thought, “What an impressive man.”
He himself pointed out that he is not getting enough recognition because he is the No. 1 ranked all-rounder in the world.
The thing for him is running. He comes back from an injury and has to hit the ground hard, but Holder is a very dangerous all-rounder.
Bumble: I know Clive Lloyd well and it was his call to make Jason captain when he was manager of the West Indies.
Clive saw himself in Holder. He saw a leader and it is one of the best moves the West Indies have made in a long time.
It’s kind of like when South Africa made Graeme Smith captain. They were both young when they got the job, but they both had the character and strength to make it a success.
Jason Holder has built a reputation as one of the best all-rounders in the world
Phil DeFreitas said he was threatened with death while on duty in England? Have you seen racism and can the game do more?
Bumble: I saw an example of this when I coached England. One of my great friends, Mark Butcher, came off the field absolutely distraught. Only years later did I find out why.
He had been racially abused on the field. But Butch wanted to keep who did it to himself and still does it. When I listened to DeFreitas, Mark Alleyne and Ebony Rainford-Brent on a podcast, I felt a real sadness about their experiences. How can such a thing continue?
I feel so strongly that if it happens now, we should call people. We can no longer bear such a thing. Just see people. Not their color.
Nasser: Where I grew up in East London, we would be at the Ilford Cricket School on Sunday morning and there would be children of all backgrounds.
The teams in Essex and England I played in were always multicultural. There was probably more overt racism in society during my playing time than now, but not in our teams.
I am a person of color and I had some racism in my career with my name. Maybe I’m near the border and someone would say, “Oi Saddam, damn back to Iraq.” But I’m also a whitish middle-class English public schoolboy, so I just can’t imagine what some of the players have been through.
It was incredible that Daffy kept it to herself and it just shows what happened then and clearly still does. I don’t see any color. I just see a person. That’s all you can hope for from everyone and I fully support the statements of support for Black Lives Matter that both teams will make in this series. I am not a political person at all. I will support the message.
Phil DeFreitas (right) revealed that he was threatened with death during his service in England
Series of predictions?
Nasser: England is very hard to beat at home and the West Indies have not won here for a long time so I’m going for a win in England – but you would be a fool to write off the West Indies because they thrive because they are being written off.
Bumble: It will not be easy for England. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a stalemate.
Keep in mind that two out of three tests will take place at Old Trafford, arguably the best cricket ground in England. It will run. The slow bowlers could win this series.
Note to voters. Where’s Adil Rashid? The last time I saw him, he was bowling the best I’ve ever seen. He could play a big part in this series if they choose him.