Everything you need to know about the return of international cricket for the first time since March 13, 2020.

When is international cricket back?
On July 8, when England play West Indies at Southampton in the first of three Tests. The match begins at 11:00 local time (15:30 IST) and will be played in an empty stadium.

How have the ECB managed to bring cricket back?
While the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over in the UK, the curve had flattened enough for the government to approve the return of professional sports behind closed doors on May 31. The ECB have created two biosecure venues, one at the Ageas Bowl, in Southampton, the venue of the first Test, the other at Old Trafford, Manchester, where the second and third Tests will be played.

What is a biosecure venue?
The Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford both have on-site hotels. So the players, support staff, and all other personnel attending the games will stay within the premises of the venue for the entire duration of the matches. No one will be allowed in or out of the venue during the Tests. The ECB has set up facilities for on-site medical testing and screening as well as designated isolation areas at both venues where any person suspected of being infected can be isolated.

Why not have all the Tests at one venue to ensure no travel?
The ECB felt the integrity of the series would be lost should all the games be played in the same conditions, since adapting to different pitches and conditions is an integral part of Test cricket. Also, it was necessary to have two venues so both sides could train separately in the lead-up to the series.

How are protocols for testing and other logistics being managed?
The West Indies team were tested in Antigua before departing for Manchester on June 9. They trained in the bio-secure bubble at Old Trafford till July 3, when they travelled to Southampton, where they were tested again. The England team arrived in Southampton on June 23 and, after testing, have been training in isolation there. Both teams have been tested regularly through training and tests will continue through the series.

What happens if a player or official tests positive?

That person would immediately be put in the designated isolation area at the venue, and the on-site Covid-19 medical officer as well as the national health authorities would be informed. If it is a relatively mild case, government guidance will be sought and the person could continue to remain isolated at the venue itself. If it is a severe case, the person will be taken to a designated Covid-19 medical facility for treatment. The match will continue unless the person has had close contact with others or there are others showing symptoms.

What was the final decision on shining the ball?
Only sweat can be used to shine the ball. The ICC has banned the use of saliva - considered a potential carrier of the virus - and artificial substances on the ball. The umpires will show initial leniency should they notice a team applying saliva on the ball, after which they will issue two official warnings before docking the team five runs. Should saliva be used, the umpires will clean the ball before play resumes.

ALSO READ - 'Do it your way' - Joe Root's message for Ben Stokes

But why is sweat allowed when saliva isn't?
According to the ICC Medical Advisory Committee (MAC), it's highly unlikely that the virus can be transmitted through sweat, whereas there's an elevated risk of transmission of the virus through saliva. Therefore, the use of saliva is prohibited but the MAC didn't see the need to prohibit the use of sweat to shine the ball.

Are there any other new playing conditions in place?
Yes. The biggest one is that teams will be allowed three reviews per innings instead of two. Since local umpires will be used instead of neutral ones, the extra review is to eliminate any impression of bias. There will also be Covid substitutes allowed. Should a player develop symptoms, they will be rushed to the isolation zone to be tested, and a like-for-like replacement can be used for the rest of the match by the team affected. Apart from this, social distancing norms will be in effect during the games.

How can players maintain social distance during a game?
Players have been instructed not to have contact with their team-mates or opponents during the game, which means no high-fives and hugging during wicket celebrations. The ICC has also focused on the safety of umpires, some of whom may be in a vulnerable age group. The players will not hand their caps, sunglasses etc. to umpires, or have any other contact with them. The players will sanitise their hands regularly using dispensers placed around the ground, and the umpires may choose to wear gloves to handle the ball.

As for the actual cricket, are both teams at full strength?
Keemo Paul, Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo all chose not to travel with the West Indies team as they did not want to risk infection or a long separation from their families. Jason Holder will lead the team. For England, Joe Root will miss the first Test to be present at the birth of his second child. Ben Stokes will captain in his stead.

How will the lack of crowd affect the players and television viewing experience?
There will be a PA announcer at the ground, as well as the usual big screens and LED boundary boards, but the ECB have confirmed there will not be music played between overs, as had been suggested. Broadcasters may pipe in some low-level crowd noise for their coverage, as has been done in the Premier League since its return.

What is next after this series?
The Pakistan squad travelled to England on June 28 and is isolating in Worcester, where it will train for a Test series that begins August 5. The series will be played in the biosecure bubbles at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford. Ireland will also tour England, for an ODI series, which will be played between July 30 and August 4. England are expected to have separate squads for the ODI and Test series to allow the short turnover between them.