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Cricket: Australia's international season launches with 'Barefoot Circle'

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s “Summer of Cricket” got underway in earnest on Friday with the first one-day international against India in front of a socially-distanced crowd of some 20,000 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

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While the global health crisis had a clear impact on the staging and timing of the clash, there was recognition before the match of another of the main changes to world in the eight months since Australia last hosted international men’s cricket.

In an echo of the ‘Black Lives Matters’ movement, both teams stood in a “Barefoot Circle” on the pitch before warming up as a stand against racism and a recognition of indigenous or First Nation Australians, “the traditional owners of the land”.

There was a further moment’s silence to remember former Australia batsman Dean Jones, who died of a heart attack at the age of 59 last month, before the singing of the national anthems.

Australia won the toss and elected to bat on a glorious afternoon in Sydney, with paceman Mohammed Shami bowling the first delivery to Australian opener David Warner.

“It’s great to have cricket back and in front of some fans as well,” said Australia skipper Aaron Finch.

Australia’s only change was the return of batting stalwart Steve Smith at the expense of injured all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, while India brought Mayank Agarwal in to open in place of vice captain Rohit Sharma, who has a hamstring injury.

“He’s a really exciting player, had a great IPL (Indian Premier League),” skipper Virat Kohli said of Agarwal.

“I think it’s very important to start well for us as a team. When you come to a place like Australia, you want to set the momentum early.”

India, who play two more one-dayers before a three-match Twenty20 series and four tests around the new year, will certainly not lack for support Down Under with the Indian diaspora well represented in the crowd on Friday.

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford