First Course promises a series of tests to savor even without Ben Stokes | sport

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WWe weren’t allowed to expect such an enthralling drama in what we thought would be the most sterile of settings this summer. The West Indies series made for good viewing (and listening), but it was better. The England and Pakistan players at Old Trafford were totally engaged in a deserted stadium, the quality of a game of cricket was excellent and the result on a razor’s edge.They reminded us that the cricket test can be the most compelling and complete form of the game, complex too, but accessible to those with only passing interest.

Against all odds, they allowed us to escape grim realities and engage in the usual arguments over who should get the gloves, the new ball or the thrust. The two teams have been formidable: they have launched poisonous deliveries, they have unveiled breathtaking shots; they were imperfect, loud and passionate. You can’t ask for much more in an empty stadium.

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