After months of exile, the return of international cricket at the Ageas Bowl really did mean the world to Taha Hashim.
For me, it was the Lord’s hum. The crowd noise transported in to hover alongside Sky’s broadcast, a hubbub that’s both innocuous and critical to the atmosphere at HQ. Look away from the TV and it was still there, in a gentle embrace, reminding me that Test cricket, somehow, was alive and well again. For five days, it soothed the soul.
For you, it might have been Jofra Archer showing Tino Best the door as he thundered in on the final day, making the ball explode off the turf to take you back to last summer, when he entered the wider consciousness and, well, there was a little less to worry about.
Perhaps it was Jermaine Blackwood switching from reckless maverick to knight in shining armour over the course of three days, somehow resisting the self-destruct button to produce a timely feel-good story.
And surely you could offer yourself a wry smile at the sight of a rain-dominated first day and an England scoreline of 87-5. Some things never do change.
What’s certain is that this was Test cricket, its rhythm and beat unaffected by the bio-secure bubble, thousands of empty seats and, I guess, the absence of saliva. For five days your mind took in the subplots that don’t matter but do. “Wonder if that’s it for Denly?” was probably a thought when you checked in on the text updates to see Zak Crawley go to fifty; “Pretty silly of them not to pick Broad,” you messaged wisely to a mate after watching Archer and Mark Wood struggle in the first innings. Unnecessary but necessary chat that hadn’t been heard in a while.
But it was talk that could only be mustered thanks to the seriousness of the contest, and for that, credit belongs to the men who took to the field. Just think of the visitors – 10 of whom are reserves tottering on the sidelines – who have left families and friends to travel halfway across the world for a two-month trip that primarily involves staring at hotel art. Not that there was any sense of lethargy when you saw Shannon Gabriel, a heavyweight in the ring in another life, running in to uproot Dom Bess’ off stump late on day four. Nor was there a lack of concentration when you saw Jason Holder plug away for his six-for on day two. And there’s no need to call this an upset: West Indies have now won four of their last six Tests against England.
For the hosts, home Tests are usually well-attended affairs, and Chris Silverwood admitted in the aftermath that England had needed to summon their “internal energy” in place of the lift a crowd could have provided. Not to say there wasn’t motivation and drive in everything England did. The celebrations were fierce after each wicket on day five, and the despair was real when Blackwood and co. closed in. Just have a watch of that extraordinary Stuart Broad mid-game interview once more. He’s not missed out on a friendly knockabout with the boys. He’s missed out on a Test match – and it matters.
And while there was no congregation present in Southampton, just seeing bat on ball in real-time would have meant so much to so many across the world. In Australia, courtesy of an ECB and CA agreement, the entire series is being streamed for free on cricket.com.au, the night owls satisfied after months of starvation. From Virat to Kumar, they’ve all kept tabs. After all, what else is there to do?
Beyond the action, you’d also hope they all tuned in for that first day, when the cricket didn’t really matter. What did was the knee, the black gloves of the West Indies players and the testimonies of both Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent. Sure, the game was the lovely distraction we so desperately needed, but this was a message that needed listening. A match of elbow bumps and fists aloft, capturing the remarkable time we are all living in.
On Thursday, it’ll begin again in Manchester, and it’ll be delightful because we’ve got a series on our hands. Most importantly, it’ll bring that comfort. I’m just looking forward to the hum.