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All eyes are on England's return as Sibley shapes up for his home debut

 

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Dom Sibley

Dom Sibley

Getty Images for ECB

Dom Sibley

When the email arrived last September announcing England's international fixtures for the summer of 2020, the least interesting were the three Tests scheduled against the West Indies for June.

Sure, Jason Holder's men had knocked off Joe Root's the previous time the teams met in early 2019. But a fragile batting line-up in English conditions seldom ends well for fans interested in gripping five-day contests. It was essentially the undercard, not only for the Pakistan series later but for the inaugural iteration of The Hundred. With the European Football Championships thrown in, likewise the build-up to the Olympics, it was likely to be a Test series as Off-Broadway as they come.

Instead, when the clock strikes 11am this morning, the whole cricketing world will be watching. And plenty more too, given this is the first England national team of any variety to take the field during this pandemic. That it is during the crisis and not after means there will be nobody there - among other changes to the game itself - but the global appetite for anything resembling normality is profound.

But for the game's decision makers, it is more than this ingrained lust for bat and ball. If they didn't appreciate already that sport wasn't going to snap back to normal as soon as the Coronavirus curve flattened out a bit, they will now having seen the news from Melbourne.

A city that was routinely logging zero infections a couple of weeks ago, they are now back in full-scale lockdown for the next six weeks. If cricket is going to crack on until a vaccine is rolled out, it might need to be just as it is at the Rose Bowl and at Old Trafford over the next few weeks.

Much has been made of how the players will adapt to empty stands. Stuart Broad was candid, noting he's sought the support of a psychologist to help him find the drive that a big crowd has provided. But the other side of that coin is the potential advantage that this will give players who haven't yet had the experience of playing in front of a boozy grandstand.

Take Dom Sibley, who debuted over the winter where crowds were more in line with his experience at Surrey and, now, Warwickshire.

"I've been working quite hard in lockdown and I feel a lot fitter," he said ahead of his home debut.

"It was an opportunity for me to improve that side of my game and I'm glad to have been able to stick to it."

The serious task of keeping all involved healthy will continue, but cricket people will talk cricket and what a joy that will be. It will be summer, at last.

Belfast Telegraph