West Indies provided a double boost to all those looking forward to a return to something approaching normality as their preparations for the Test series against England moved up a level.
As well as offering a glimpse of the first organized cricket of the English season – you would have struggled to find many guessing the first game of the summer would feature two West Indies XIs – there was also good news off the pitch. ESPNcricinfo understands that every member of the touring squad tested negative for the Covid-19 virus – the second such test of the tour – increasing confidence that the series will start, as planned, on July 8.
While this three-day match will not be recorded as a first-class encounter – the tourists named all 25 players across the two sides and wore coloured training kits, shorts and hoodies rather than whites – the fact that it represented the first professional cricket since the Pakistan Super League was suspended in mid-March rendered it a notable occasion.
West Indies will be quietly satisfied with it, too. There were runs for key batsmen, Kraigg Brathwaite (who made 84 off 162 balls) and Shai Hope (83 off 127), while three of the fast bowlers looked in decent shape.
Alzarri Joseph, who wrapped up the tail, was the top wicket-taker with 4 for 60, but Shannon Gabriel, who remains officially a reserve for the tour but looks all but certain to be added to the main squad, was equally impressive in claiming 3 for 32. Kemar Roach also started to find his rhythm after a slow start and claimed the wicket of Brathwaite as the batting side lost their last five wickets for the addition of just two runs.
The only cloud on the horizon was the lack of bowling from Jason Holder. While Phil Simmons, West Indies’ head coach, suggested the previous day that Holder had recovered from a minor ankle injury, there one or two looking at the scorecard with a furrowed brow. West Indies do have another match – a four-day, first-class game – ahead of the Test, however, providing Holder ample opportunity to prove his fitness.
The Holder XI enjoyed the better of the opening session. John Campbell, who top-edged a pull to mid-wicket, went for a 16-ball duck, before Shamarh Brooks edged one to the keeper.
But Brathwaite and Hope are made of stern stuff. Despite taking 23-balls to get off the mark, Hope made 39 off his next 45 and reached his half-century from 76 deliveries with seven fours. Brathwaite, meanwhile, defended and drove well and reached his half-century from 166 deliveries. In all, they added 103 for the third wicket.
They were finally parted by Roach, quietly effective throughout, as he took out Brathwaite’s off stump before tea. From 176 for 3 at the start of the last session, the batting side were rounded up efficiently in the evening.
Hope was the key wicket, sixth man down nicking Joseph behind. That was the start of a decisive spell for the seamer, who had Raymon Reifer and Anderson Philip caught in the slips and finished off the day by skittling Chemar Holder first ball. Off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall and left-arm seamer Preston McSween each contributed a wicket as the Brathwaite XI were bowled out on the brink of stumps for 275.
“The intensity was there from ball one,” Brathwaite told PA afterwards. “Everyone was playing with a purpose. Those guys we faced are quality, so it was very good practice for batters and bowlers. It was intense, it felt like we were in a battle all day. When you play a game like this you want to come out on top.
“Shannon looks fit to me and I believe he is ready for the Test series.”