Ben Stokes is properly conscious he may have an additional “responsibility” when he leads England out in the first Test against the West Indies at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl on Wednesday, a match that marks the return of worldwide cricket after months of coronavirus-enforced lockdown. The stress of captaining England for the primary time, with common skipper Joe Root lacking the match to attend the start of his second baby, would have been sufficient to pay attention all-rounder Stokes’ thoughts in regular circumstances.
But the first fixture in a three-Test sequence has been given added significance by the pandemic.
“I know everybody has been craving this, certainly from a players’ point of view but I also think from a spectators’ and fans’ view,” mentioned Stokes on Tuesday. “This is a massive occasion for a lot of people.”
No spectators will likely be allowed into the Ageas Bowl in a behind-closed-doors sequence that sees the opposite two Tests going down at Old Trafford.
But Stokes mentioned a scarcity of a crowd was no motive for England to let their requirements slip.
“We know we have that responsibility on our shoulders, to go out and do justice for all those people,” he mentioned.
“We can’t use no crowd as an excuse to not feel up for this game because we know we have hundreds of thousands of people following us and wanting us to do well back home watching us on TV.”
The Durham star added: “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 prouder in the sport that we play.
“You do not lose that feeling simply because there may be no person within the stands.”
Meanwhile, West Indies coach Phil Simmons praised English administrators for staging the series.
Both teams are living and playing at bio-secure grounds, which have on-site hotels, while being subject to a twice-weekly testing regime and numerous social-distancing measures.
“It’s an enormous blueprint for the way cricket can transfer ahead,” said Simmons, whose side quarantined and trained at Old Trafford from June 9 before travelling south.
“We’re about to indicate that different locations can begin placing issues collectively. The England and Wales Cricket Board must be recommended for all of the work they’ve completed to get the sequence on the highway and let’s examine what different nations take from it.”
The former West Indies batsman added: “People wish to see sports activities as a result of it lifts individuals, so hopefully that is the beginning.”
Two pacemen from England’s 13-man squad are set to be dropped with James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes all vying for three places in the team.
Squad rotation — England are set to play six Tests in seven weeks including three against Pakistan — should see all of them involved at some stage.
But Stokes had no desire to be the bringer of bad news ahead of Wednesday’s match.
“I’ve been dreading it for the final two or three days, telling the unlucky guys,” he said.
“I am unable to wait to offer Joe the armband again for that motive, however that’s management.”
And with this series taking place against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests, it is possible that both Stokes and West Indies captain Jason Holder could lead their sides in taking a knee in support of the campaign, although that had still to be confirmed by officials late Tuesday.
Stokes’ parents are usually avid followers of their son’s progress, but now they are back in his native New Zealand they may not witness him becoming England’s 81st Test captain as the rest of the cricket world tunes in.
“My Mam is spitting bullets as a result of they don’t seem to be exhibiting the sport again in New Zealand,” said Stokes.
“If you are on the market and also you see my Mam, I’d keep out of her method.”
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