It’s like Christmas’: Cricket left longing for its most cherished day

having overseen the broadcast of 78 days of international cricket across last summer, either in person or remotely, from limited-overs matches against Pakistan, a one-off Test with Ireland, an Ashes series to a 50-over World Cup, Test Match Special producer Adam Mountford sat down in his study and made notes. What went well, what didn’t, what should change, what shouldn’t. Alongside these notes, he wrote down the date – 4 June 2020.

At the start of March, Mark Wood put that same day on a target at the front of his mind. After missing the Ashes, he shocked South Africa in January only to be ruled out of the winter’s final tour away to Sri Lanka with a side tear. Another injury, albeit not the same injury as before. But with three months to go, one he could get over and put himself back in the reckoning. Come the first Thursday in June, he promised, he would be back where he belongs.

Even David Rodigan had been working towards it. Few championed reggae and dancehall quite like him, an endeavor that began way back when sneaking around specialist shops and into small halls for his fix. And while central London and out west in Acton proved particularly fruitful, it was south where he settled. So who better to pull together a “Sounds of ’76” playlist, and where better to spin it than at the Oval with the West Indies in town.

Alas, 4 June will come and go just as interminably as the previous 73 days of lockdown. Stripped of the tag it would have worn with pride: day one of the first Test between England and West Indies. The opening day of the Test summer.

It’s a cliche to say there’s nothing quite like it… but there really isn’t anything like that first day of Test cricket, is there? Of lush green, pure cream, and limitless possibility. The promises of a fruitful international summer run, and wickets for whoever needs them most and hopes for excitement, serenity, and competitiveness exactly how we want it. Regardless of when we began thinking about this day, we all had visions of how it would pan out, and it was certainly not like this.

Had coronavirus not brought the game to its knees, an England squad would have been announced ahead of the weekend for this Test. Weeks and months of pontificating over its make-up morphing seamlessly into weeks, months, and years of reaction. But for players, once you get the call, followed by the e-mail confirming when and where you need to be, that’s when it gets real.

“It’s like Christmas, really,” says Joe Root, now England captain, of the sensation. “It signifies what I think is a great couple of months of the year. International cricket at home, full house all the time, and brilliant atmospheres around the country.”

The backroom staff would have arrived at a hotel on Chelsea Harbour on Sunday to prepare ahead of those selected checking in on Monday.

They would have filed in around similar times, parking their cars, they would make their way to the team room – often a conference room at the hotel – embracing and congratulating each other as their paths cross, even with those they may not have played with or against before. Here they would be given their room keys, supplements, and, perhaps the most exciting bit – their training kits and whites for the summer.

For regulars, it’s nothing new, especially this year with no change to the manufacturer or design. But if you’re new to all this, then it’s a different matter. Some players say the first thing they do when they get to their rooms is to rip open the plastic and try on all the kit. The more superstitious leave the whites and cap well alone. Either way, if a debut is in the offing then those would be taken away and returned either on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Test number freshly embroidered.

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