Cricket news - English rain ruins play, but greater-reaching consequences attained

Michael Holding in an unscripted hard-hitting interview with Sky Sports on the BLM campaign before the start of the match

Michael Holding in an unscripted hard-hitting interview with Sky Sports on the BLM campaign before the start of the match

It's probably a good job that there were no spectators at the Ageas Bowl for the opening day of England's much delayed and much anticipated cricket season. If there had been, they would have spent most of the time trying to find shelter from persistent rain that kept the players off the field for all but 17.4 overs. After 117 days without any international cricket, and with the eyes of the world fixed on its return in Southampton, English drizzle ruined things as only English drizzle can.

For a number of reasons, this was still a significant day. Indeed, the most significant moments came before a ball had been bowled. Sky Sports dedicated more than 20 minutes of their pre-game build-up to the Black Lives Matter campaign, with a powerful pre-recorded segment with Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent followed by unscripted remarks from both of them. Rainford-Brent broke down as she described the racism she had encountered coming up through the English cricketing ranks on her way to becoming the first black woman to play for England.

Holding too was in tears at the end of a four and a half minute long soliloquy following the pre-recorded segment. There have been iconic moments in cricket commentary history but Holding's words deserve to be remembered as one of the finest pieces of live broadcasting that the sport has ever seen. That he did it unscripted was even more remarkable.

"People tell me there is no such thing as white privilege - give me a break," he said. "A white person going into a shop is not being followed. A black man goes in, he is followed everywhere he goes. That is basic white privilege. Whether the white person is going to rob the place or not, he is not thought of that way. And things have to change."

The West Indian and English squads followed with their own show of support for the BLM movement. After a minute's silence to jointly remember those who have lost their lives during the COVID-19 and the great Sir Everton Weekes, who passed away last week, the players on the field, and the coaches and support staff off it, took a knee. The West Indians each wore one black glove, reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico. It was quite a morning.

In the grand scheme of things of course, the lack of play hardly matters and there were, at least, some pleasing signs that things had returned to some normality. There were selection issues to debate - what were England thinking by leaving Stuart Broad and his 485 Test wickets out a home Test for the first time since 2012 - and grievances to air - why can't play continue with the floodlights on. Then, the West Indies bowled a touch too short and everyone could have a good old grumble at that too.

Things obviously looked and felt very different. England's pre-match huddle was socially distanced so much so that Ben Stokes might have wanted a megaphone to ensure he could be heard by the whole group. After Stokes had won the toss, he went to elbow bump Jason Holder, who went to shake Stokes' hand which created a sort of elbow-shake greeting. No doubt both players went and quickly sanitised their hands.

When the cricket began, things all seemed normal enough. Dom Sibley was bowled offering no shot to Shannon Gabriel in the second over and England had lost a wicket before they had scored a run. In fairness, it was a fine bit of bowling, the ball before having left Sibley and the one that got him nipping back in. The players were soon off the field, though, for the first of two rain interruptions before five overs had been bowled. Again, pretty normal for an English summer.

When they returned, Rory Burns, restored to England's side after injuring himself playing football in South Africa, looked assured, as he increasingly has at Test level, and Joe Denly played a rasping cut and an authoritative pull off Gabriel which brought him his first and second boundaries. His third came the delivery after he had pulled the Trinidadian through mid-on when he drove loosely at a full ball which flew through where a fourth slip should have been but wasn't. Imperious one moment and shaky the next has rather been the way of Denly's Test career so far.

Despite less than a quarter of the overs being bowled, this was definitely cricket and cricket was definitely back. It was different in some ways, but not so much in others. The lack of a crowd certainly made it feel more sterile than a day of Test cricket in England usually would but the cricket itself was reassuringly predictable at a time when predictability is a welcome change. Three months ago, it looked like there might be no cricket at all this summer so getting things up and running is a significant achievement.

It was an important day for cricket then and, given the words of Holding and Rainford-Brent and the taking of knees by both teams before the match, an important day all round. Perhaps the last word is best left to Holding: "I hope people realise this Black Lives Matter movement is not trying to get black people above white people or anyone else, it is all about equality.

"When you see somebody react to Black Lives Matter with 'all lives matter' or 'white lives matter', please, we black people know that white lives matter. I don't think you know that black lives matter. So don't shout back at us that all lives matter. The evidence is clearly there that white lives matter, we want black lives to matter now as well. It's as simple as that."