Last year England and West Indies players took the knee before the start of the first Test, as a show of support to the Black Lives Matter movement. At Lord’s on Wednesday, both sides, led by the respective captains Joe Root and Kane Williamson, will line up around the boundary’s edge for a moment of silence before the start of play.
“We know at the start of last summer it unearthed some ugly truths in society and in our sport,” said Root, England captain, on Tuesday when asked about what was planned after managing director Ashley Giles had mooted discussions were being had to make a statement against all discrimination, not just around race.”We have spent a lot of time talking about how we can better our game, how we can educate ourselves more.”
The gesture is part on ongoing discussions between the players, ECB and the Professional Cricketer’s Association (PCA). Though the details have not been confirmed, Root stated it will form part of a series of initiatives that will make cricket more inclusive among diverse, hard to reach and under represented communities, across the country and for all age-groups.
“Throughout this summer, we will be looking at working with hopefully three projects where we can take the game to more diverse areas around the country where we can continue to look to grow the game and offer our help and support in doing that. That’s really exciting.
“We have spent a lot of time talking about this sort of things but this year is all about action. It’s about actually doing something about it.
“Hopefully this year we can really start to make a difference and keep that conversation current. Make sure it is the game for everyone, we make our game more diverse and we do as much as we can in that regard to grow the game and make everyone feel comfortable playing cricket.”
As far as in-play matters, Root kept his cards close to his chest beyond confirmation James Bracey will keep wicket on debut and Stuart Broad will act as his vice-captain in the absence of Ben Stokes.
The lack of Stokes, and alternative all-round option, may see England opt for four frontline bowlers, with Broad and James Anderson supplemented by two from quick Mark Wood, Sussex’s uncapped seamer Ollie Robinson and left-arm spinner Jack Leach. If they go without Leach, Root’s off-spin, which served a useful purpose in the recent four-match series in India, will fill in any necessary slower overs.
“When you’re missing a pivotal all-rounder in Ben Stokes and the other who have been around the squad for the last couple of years, it does change things slightly and we have to look at doing things slightly differently.
“One of the big incentives for this group and one of the things we want to push moving forward is trying to improve those lower order runs. Those bowlers have that added responsibility of making sure they capitalise on opportunities to score runs and take that responsibility of their game other than just taking wickets. If we’re going to grow as a team and become more consistent that’s something we want to add – lower order runs.”
Meanwhile, Williamson is looking forward to the prospect of returning to the scene where New Zealand lost a thrilling 2019 World Cup Final on boundary count after the scores were tied after 50 overs and the Super Over.
There is no sense from the Blackcaps skipper that revenge is on the menu. He has eyes for better treats: “Fantastic lunches,” he said of the prospect of playing at Lord’s once more. “ if you compare them to all around the world it's a very special place to eat food.”
Tucking into England’s bowlers, even as the weather turns unabashedly to summer, will be a different proposition. The number two ranked team in the world are looking to sign off their visit with victory in the World Test Championship Final against India later this month. And Williamson knows “warming up” with an encounter with Root et al will go some way to testing their mettle and acclimatise ahead of that showpiece event.
“We know how tough it is over here and how clinical England are, certainly in their own conditions but also all around the world. We are in for a really tough challenge. For us, it is important we focus on the cricket we want to play but also try to improve and adjust as quickly as possible. We know there are a few things that are quite different with the cricket that is played over here.
“I think we have seen a lot of improvement in the side,” he said of his charges. “Being part of that growth has been really enjoyable. It’s difficult to take stock in a moment in time and give a judgement like that when you know the next day there is another challenge to address and there is always room to improve.
“We have a tough challenge against England and then India. We are very realistic about where our focus needs to be - and it is certainly not looking backwards, it is looking forwards.”
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