Fresh from becoming a father of two, Joe Root will be reinstalled as England captain on Thursday with his team in very familiar territory.
With Root absent so he could be with his wife for the birth of their second child, England lost the first Test against the West Indies last week in what was the first international cricket match since the sport's shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.
It leaves England with a bizarre record of having lost the first Test in eight of the team's last 10 series.
So, after some time away from camp, is Root any closer to putting his finger on why these slow starts keep happening?
“No,” Root said Wednesday in a video call for his pre-match news conference. “It’s quite frustrating — you don’t want to be behind, you want to put a marker down early. The pleasing thing is there have been times when that’s been the case and we’ve still come out and won the series. That’s the challenge now.”
England's players and coaches discussed that very issue after the loss in Southampton on Sunday, with some confidence generated from the fact that the team came from 1-0 down to a win 3-1 in a Test series in South Africa around the turn of the year.
With the series against the West Indies being only three Tests, England have to bounce back immediately and Root's return is clearly a positive.
The captain will take the place of Joe Denly, who made 18 and 29 in his two innings at the Rose Bowl and was fighting with Zak Crawley to keep his spot for the second Test at Old Trafford.
Crawley had England’s highest single score with 76 in the second innings.
There will be changes to the bowling attack, too, after England chose to give pacemen Jimmy Anderson and Mark Wood a rest.
Stuart Broad is pushing for a recall after being dropped for the first Test — and then speaking publicly about his disappointment during the match — and left-arm seamer Sam Curran is another option after being added to the squad.
The team will be announced on the morning of the game and Root said any decisions would be taken after he took a look at the Old Trafford pitch again later on Wednesday. There has been rain in Manchester and Root described the wicket as having a “nice brownish color.”
Root briefly handed over the captaincy to Ben Stokes for the first Test, but did have some input in selection and decision-making despite his parental duties at home.
He said he managed to watch most of the match, except for when he “had to go and hit some balls myself.”
“You want to be there and you want to be involved,” Root said, “and after playing 80-odd games on the bounce, it was hard to sit there and watch knowing you can’t really affect things.”
Continuity has been key for England when it comes to selection in recent years, which may prove a blessing for Jos Buttler. The wicketkeeper-batsman — a limited-overs specialist — has a Test average of 23.22 since the start of 2019, and only one century in 75 innings, but is set to keep his place.
“It’s just a matter of time before we see some of those special innings we’ve seen in white-ball cricket,” Root said of Buttler. "His performances can transfer across.
“He’s a big part of our group, has been for a long time and is a great thinker about the game. He’s a big senior player in the dressing room across the formats and I just feel he’s not far away from grabbing test cricket and really running with it.”
The West Indies are holders of the Wisden Trophy after beating England in a home series last year, so will retain it with a draw in the first of back-to-back Tests in Manchester.
And they are looking to seal a first Test series victory in England in 32 years. Not since 1992-93 — when the likes of Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were in their pomp — have the Windies won an overseas Test series consisting of more than two matches against major opposition.
“I haven’t mentioned anything about history to the guys," West Indies captain Jason Holder said. "It’s hard for us to get caught up in the peripheral stuff.
“Winning the first Test match is just one piece of the puzzle. We’ve got two other games to play and we don’t get ahead of ourselves."
Opening batsman John Campbell is likely to be available after being struck on the boot by a yorker from Jofra Archer on Day five in Southampton. Campbell retired hurt but was back at the crease as the Windies sealed victory late in the day.
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