IT HAD been 117 days since the world had witnessed Test match cricket.
England v West Indies might not have been everyone’s choice of viewing before play commenced at Southampton in the bio-security bubble caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But for five days, with most of the first lost to the British weather, we were served up some excellent fare.
The West Indies players deserve a lot of credit for even traveling to England from the Caribbean, a region largely untouched by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Captain Jason Holder and his team spent more than two weeks in isolation at Old Trafford in Manchester.
They were not able to do anything but live and work with each other.
That they were able to produce the performance that they did is a great credit to all involved, including the coaching staff.
The Windies could quite easily have come out with a sloppy first day, blaming rustiness because of the enforced break but with Holder and Shannon Gabriel to the fore, the home team produced a below-par batting display.
Conditions did favour bowling over the first two days, but under stand-in captain Ben Stokes England, not for the first time, faltered, handing all the momentum to the visitors.
They might not have taken their chance with both hands as the weather on England’s south coast improved dramatically, but a lead of more than 100 proved handy as the match progressed.
Kraigg Brathwaite impressed with 65, but England had the chance to set the Windies a testing total to chase in the fourth innings.
Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly and Ben Stokes all got starts and with Zak Crawley scoring a classy 76, they should have put the home side in a strong position.
But once again England’s propensity to collapse when in a strong position, meant they lost five for 30 late on day four, to give the West Indies the edge.
Chasing 200 was never going to be easy and at 3-27, the visitors would have been nervous, but Jermaine Blackwood took control and his 95 eventually saw the Windies home with four wickets in hand.
England will rue missed chances. Burns and wicketkeeper Jos Buttler both dropped catches off Stokes, and Crawley failed to pick up the ball in the covers when Blackwood and Roston Chase got in a mix-up running a single.
England paid the price for their poor batting in the first innings and maybe the decision to leave Stuart Broad out of their starting XI.
It seemed a strange choice to leave Broad, one of the star performers with the ball in England’s series success in South Africa, on the sidelines, especially as Stokes had won the toss and the overcast skies would have been perfect for Broad and long-time new-ball partner James Anderson.
Having batted England should have made more on a pitch which still behaved well throughout the first two days and then when in a strong position late on day four, they threw that away with some injudicious shot selection.
There was no doubt, however, that the better team won the game and all the plaudits must go to Holder and the West Indies team.
Everything was against them, yet they performed admirably in what must have been alien conditions.
That Test cricket was able to be played at all during the pandemic is staggering.
The England and Wales Cricket Board and both sets of players deserve plenty of credit.
It is just a shame that there was no crowd to witness what was a thrilling first Test of a three-match series.
But those watching on televisions around the world would have been pleased with what was on show over the week.
And for those who believe that Test match cricket is dying and that five days should be reduced to four, then look at the highlights of this cracking match.
It was also great to see the West Indies playing some decent Test match cricket again after years in the doldrums in the longest form of the game.
Test cricket needs West Indies at the peak of their powers. Everyone would love to see the Caribbean nations get back to the dominating sides of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Hopefully, England, with Joe Root back at the helm after parental duties, and the Windies can provide us with more much needed sporting entertainment at Old Trafford in Tests two and three.