England and the West Indies ushered in the long-awaited return of international cricket by coming together in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, taking the knee together before the start of play at the Ageas Bowl.
The first Test match anywhere in the world since March 2 was delayed for three hours by grey skies and drizzle in Southampton, and when the players did take the field in front of empty stands it was to deliver a clear message of unity and equality.
The teams observed two minutes’ silence, one in honour of those lost during the coronavirus pandemic and another for the Caribbean great Sir Everton Weekes, who died aged 95 last week, before an even more poignant gesture.
Just before the first ball was delivered, and with batsmen, umpires and fielders in position, the teams collectively took a knee – with all members of the West Indian contingent wearing a single black glove and raising their right fist.
The remainder of the players and backroom staff from each side followed suit as they stood shoulder to shoulder at the boundary edge.
England’s absent Test captain Joe Root was watching from home with the latest addition to his family – Isabella Florence – having left the bio-secure team bubble to attend the birth.
Stokes had earlier confirmed that Stuart Broad would be missing his first home Test in eight years, a run of 51 matches dating back to a dead rubber in 2012, with record wicket-taker James Anderson back to lead an attack that included Jofra Archer and Mark Wood together for the first time. Chris Woakes was the other squad member to miss out.
Stokes and Jason Holder had brief misunderstanding after the Englishman won the toss, Holder forgetfully going for the now outlawed handshake as his opposite number attempted to bump fists.