England ready for ‘massive occasion’ against West Indies

Stand-in captain Ben Stokes says England are ready for the “massive occasion” of the first Test against West Indies, which starts on Wednesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented any competitive professional cricket in the UK so far this summer.

“I know everyone has been craving this,” said Stokes.

“We know we have hundreds of thousands of people who want us to do well, and we have that responsibility to go out and do justice for all those people.”

England were due to name their side on Tuesday evening, but have instead delayed the announcement of the XI until the toss.

They have five pace bowlers for three places, with James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes all vying for a spot.

Stokes will lead England for the first time in the absence of batsman Joe Root, who is isolating following the birth of his second child.

Stokes, 29, will become England’s 81st Test captain and first all-rounder to take charge since Andrew Flintoff.

“It’s a huge honour to be given the responsibility,” Stokes told BBC Sport.

“The bigger picture is not the fact I am the captain, but about going out there and doing what I normally do, which is trying to influence the game as much as I possibly can.”

Stokes revealed that Root had left a note on the hanger holding his England blazer which said “Do it your way”.

He also confirmed that England will join West Indies for a gesture in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, with both teams also wearing a logo on their shirts.

“We have a massive opportunity to do something really powerful as an England team and we are doing that by showing support towards the West Indies,” said Stokes.

Highlights of the first Test will be shown on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website at 19:00 BST each day (19:30 on Sunday), while Test Match Special will provide ball-by-ball radio coverage.

‘No crowd is no excuse’

The coronavirus pandemic has heavily disrupted England’s schedule, not only cutting short their tour of Sri Lanka in March, but delaying this series, which should have been played in June.

Months of meticulous planning has gone into the staging of England’s home matches this summer, which will all be played behind closed doors in a bio-secure environment in Southampton and Manchester.

England have been living and training in Southampton for two weeks, while the Windies had a period of isolation at Old Trafford, followed by two practice matches.

The Tests themselves will have altered playing conditions – players are not allowed to apply saliva to the ball and both umpires will be English, as opposed to from neutral countries.

In a wider context of providing entertainment to a nation that has been locked down by coronavirus, Stokes says his team are aware of their duty.

“This is a massive occasion for a lot of people around England,” he said.

“I know there is not going to be anybody in the crowd to hear or get energy from, but we can’t use the lack of crowd as an excuse not to get up for this game.

“You’ve got to look at it that we’re walking out on the field to represent our country. When you have the three lions on your chest, you can’t feel any more proud.

“You still get that feeling, even though there is nobody in the stands.”

‘We have what it takes to beat England’

West Indies have not won a series in England since 1988, but hold the Wisden Trophy after beating England 2-1 in the Caribbean at the beginning of 2019.

They have travelled to England without batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, who opted out of the tour because of coronavirus concerns.

Their strength lies in the pace bowling, the likes of Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and captain Jason Holder.

“We’ve got the tools to beat England,” said Holder. “Our guys are ready. We haven’t played cricket, but neither have England, so we’re even on that front.

“Us playing in their backyard gives them a home advantage, but I think we have what it takes to beat England and play some really solid cricket.” (BBC Sports)