International cricket returned in thrilling fashion last week with West Indies beating hosts England by four wickets in the first match following the global pandemic-enforced lockdown. The win meant that West Indies went 1-0 up in a Test series in England for the first time since 2000.

As we head to Manchester for the second Test of the series, you can rest assured that the English will come guns blazing in their bid to tie the series ahead of the final Test. Here, we have a look at a couple of potential difference-makers who will be looking to stand up and be counted for their respective teams.

Joe Root

The likely return of skipper Joe Root to England’s batting line-up after the birth of his second child comes as a much-needed boost for the Three Lions. He will most likely replace Joe Denly in the batting lineup since Zak Crawley and the rest of England’s batsmen gave a good account of themselves in the first Test. Root’s addition will bring an added sense of security, calmness and consistency to England’s middle order. Root, in fact, is the highest run-scorer in Tests, with 2039 runs, including four hundreds and 13 half-centuries in matches since 2018. The England skipper will be keen to lead from the front as his team looks to level the series in the second Test.

Ben Stokes

Captain in the first Test, Ben Stokes was England’s best batsman, with 40s in both innings. However, he will want to capitalise on his starts in the second Test and looks primed to do just that with the added burden of captaincy no longer a worry for him in Manchester. Besides his runs with the bat, Stokes also showed how sharp he can be with the ball and will be hoping to exploit the conditions in Manchester. The last Test saw him become the sixth player to reach the Test double of 4000 runs and 150 wickets in the longest format of the game. The hard-hitting all-rounder is known for his game-changing ability and how West Indies contain him could be a pivotal factor when it comes to deciding the outcome of the contest.

Jermaine Blackwood

Jermaine Blackwood announced his return to the West Indies setup with a match-winning 95 in the second innings of the first Test. The top run-getter in the West Indies Championships – a four-day tournament – before the pandemic halted proceedings, Blackwood looks to have carried his form with him to England. He will be determined to build on his comeback to the Test side following a two-and-a-half-year spell away from the team. The right-hand batsman will also be eager to make amends with a big knock after falling five runs short of a Test century in the previous match. He scored his maiden ton against England in 2015 and will be hoping that he doesn’t have to wait for much longer for a second.

Shannon Gabriel

Man of the Match in the last Test after taking four wickets in the first innings and five in the second, Shannon Gabriel demonstrated his return to full fitness in style with a nine-wicket haul. Even though he was a late inclusion in the Test squad due to injury, Gabriel managed to rattle the English batsmen more than any other bowler from his team and produced a game-changing spell on Day 4, when it looked like England were slight favourites. He will be in a confident frame of mind heading into the second Test in Manchester and will want to replicate, if not better his performance from the first Test.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Lakruwan Wanniarachchi

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