For the second consecutive Test match on home soil, England are gearing up for a seismic farewell. But as one era draws to a close, another one starts, and while everything is currently secondary to James Anderson’s retirement, the transition that follows could be just as captivating.

Regardless of how heavily the rain intervenes at Lord’s, the outpouring of gratitude for Anderson’s Test career will be overwhelming. A nostalgia-filled five days of endless videos of milestone wickets, hairstyles and memories spanning the last two decades of English cricket, punctuated by roars from the crowd whenever Anderson’s name comes over the stadium speakers, will invoke the memories of the last two ‘goodbye Tests’ in London, those of his close friends Stuart Broad and Alastair Cook.

But there will never be another like this. The depth of feeling England fans have for Anderson and the unique place he holds in the game will surely never be emulated. That the retirement is not entirely on his terms also adds another layer to the final chapter.

However, the sideshow deserves its spotlight as well. Several new stories bubble beneath the surface, including the two debutants set to receive their caps at Lord’s. Jamie Smith taking the gloves likely ends another storyline that’s dominated the last decade of English cricket. There will be no red-faced, roaring comeback from Jonny Bairstow, proving his perceived critics wrong for the hundredth time, adding another note to the melodrama that is his career.

Smith has been touted as a key part of the next generation set to embed themselves into England’s Test XI over the next few years as the older faces filter out. Not many would have predicted that he would take the gloves in the opening Test of the summer, not least because he doesn’t do so for his county side, with the also-jilted Ben Foakes Surrey’s regular wicketkeeper. But England feel that, in Smith, they have found a special talent, and so had to get him in the XI however they could. Now he must live up to the hype while learning half of his role on the job.

Gus Atkinson is the other debutant, the first of a crop of new seamers given a go. Dillon Pennington and Sam Cook are also likely to feature over the following five Tests, under Anderson’s watchful eye from the dressing room as England’s fast-bowling godfather. The bowling attack England take to Australia next year will start to form over the next three months. Along with that, the Shoaib Bashir spin subplot will bubble away as another England punt tasked with putting it together on the big stage.

Outside of the newest and the oldest faces, everywhere you look in England’s XI there are threads to pull. While County Championship runs are pretty much irrelevant when discussing England’s top three, it’s still worth pointing out how few they collectively have this year. Zak Crawley has averaged in the low 30s in typical Zak Crawley fashion, with 238 in one innings and 84 runs in the other nine. Ollie Pope, meanwhile, has passed 50 once in seven County Championship games, having also failed to raise his bat in England’s final four Tests in India. Ben Duckett has played one professional match in the last two-and-a-half months, carrying the drinks for England’s white-ball side in the Caribbean.

They’re up against a raw, exciting West Indies attack, fresh off one sizeable scalp and hungry for more. Back in January, they raided the Gabba, Shamar Joseph, running on painkillers, flattening Josh Hazlewood’s off stump to seal one of the great Test wins. Jayden Seales will play his first Test since 2022 after injury disrupted his initial rise, which shared its similarities with Shamar’s. West Indies have rarely rolled over, winning the last two series against England in the Caribbean and taking a Test in each of their last two tours to these shores. They won’t let the Richards-Botham Trophy go easily.

At the beginning of the 2023 summer, England were still sitting on a hefty bank of Bazball success. The winter had seen them dominate in Pakistan following the golden 2022 summer, and lose one of the tightest Tests ever played in New Zealand. Almost 12 months on from their last Test at home, the atmosphere feels different.

It’s been a year and a half since the last time they won a multi-Test series and the bravado that has characterised the Ben Stokes era is starting to wear thin. The leaked pep-talks and text messages are palatable when there are recent wins to back them up, but become grating when they’re told to a team at the bottom of the World Test Championship table. With a clear message that everything over the next 18 months is geared towards the Ashes down under, McCullum’s men need a second wind.

From the chaos of the 2022 summer and the volatility of the last Ashes, this year feels calmer, or as calm as it’s possible for this team to be. If the last two years have been about changing the narrative and disrupting, now is the time to establish something more stable.

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