Excitement Builds as West Indies Arrive Ahead of First Test

The West Indies cricket team have arrived in England ahead of the eagerly anticipated Test series with the host country in July.

Three West Indian players, batsmen Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo and all-rounder Keemo Paul, have all taken the decision not to travel to the UK because of coronavirus fears.

With England having already travelled home in the early stages of their tour of Sri Lanka in March due to the same fears and with county cricket not due to start until August, is it the right time for this Test series to be going ahead? For me, it’s an unequivocal yes.

Although it’s incredibly important for cricket lovers to be getting their fix of cricket to keep them sane, the key decision would have been in regards to the mental health of players. As a big fan of both Kent and England cricket teams, I have watched a lot of videos, listened to a lot of podcasts and seen a lot of social media posts on how cricketers are coping during the lockdown.

For people that only know the cricketing world, this time may have been even more bizarre and challenging than it has for many of the rest of us.

It’s been interesting to hear how many players are chomping at the bit to get going again, especially players in the infancy of their career.

Take Kent and England batsmen Zak Crawley for example. He found himself shoved into the spotlight during England’s tour of South Africa earlier this year when an injury to established opener Rory Burns gave him the opportunity to receive his England cap and start his international career.

Crawley started well, if not spectacularly, and had the Sri Lanka tour as an opportunity to nail down his place in the team, potentially in place of his Kent teammate Joe Denly.

However, with this unheralded break, he will be left wondering whether his progress has been hampered and if he will get back into the side, with a returning Burns waiting in the wings. That’s a lot for a 22-year-old with just four caps to fathom.

However, now that the ECB has allowed a select group of 55 players to train ahead of this summer’s cricket, Crawley and the rest of the training squad, can get their head down in the nets, do what they do best and push that mental side of the game aside.

At the other end of the spectrum, England’s all-time record wicket-taker in Test matches James Anderson has explained that the break could have helped him extend his career.

37-year-old Anderson has been suffering from injuries in the past 12 months but has been quoted as saying "It could just add a year or two at the end of my career. I've really enjoyed being back and as odd as it is just bowling into a net, it's still nice to be back and playing cricket.”

The upcoming Test series will give Anderson that opportunity to show that he’s back to full fitness, where an even longer absence of cricket could have seen him pushed to the side with the squad full of established and up and coming seam bowlers.

On the negative side, the coronavirus fears must be at the top of the tree.

The West Indies, even with the three dropouts, have travelled with a huge 25 man playing squad, made up of an initial 14 players, with an extra 11 in reserve who will train with the main squad, ready for any injuries or coronavirus issues.

The question has been asked whether it is right that these players, and accompanying staff, should be travelling from the Caribbean, where coronavirus cases are a lot lower than the UK, just for three games of cricket.

One of the main reasons this series is able to go ahead though is due to the secure locations being used. Both Lancashire’s Old Trafford and Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl are bio-secure venues where both sides can stay onsite. This provides both sides with the reassurance that everything is being done to keep them as safe as possible.

Without this possibility, it’s fair to say the West Indies would still be sitting at home in the Caribbean.

Another concern will be injuries. Training and playing games of cricket, especially over a five day Test match could not be further apart on the scale of similarity, and it will be interesting to see how the bodies of players hold up to the intensity of Test matches.

I would put myself on the line to say that we may not see the same XI play for either side in any of the matches, as both sides will keep their teams fresh, especially in the bowling department.

This could be seen as diluting the cricket on show, as the best players may not be on show in every game. However, I would cite the inclusion of Marnus Labauschagne during the 2019 Ashes series.

The batsman with just a handful of caps was drafted into the team as a concussion replacement for Steve Smith, in a series, he would have thought he would have been a glorified drinks provider.

With impressive, gritty performances followed up by a stellar Australian summer, Labauschagne is now a permanent fixture for his international side and regarded as one of the finest middle-order batsmen in the world.

Who knows what player could throw themselves into the mix during this most interesting of cricketing summers?

Jason Holder summed the upcoming series perfectly, saying "This is a huge step forward in cricket and in sports in general. A lot has gone into the preparations for what will be a new phase in the game."

Cricket had to dive into this new era and I, for one, cannot wait to see how it develops.

This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk