ngland’s Test series against Sri Lanka moved two important steps closer on Friday, as the tourists came through unscathed in another round of Covid-19 testing and some cricket broke out in the form of an intra-squad warm-up between teams captained by Joe Root and Jos Buttler.
But there was further good news from the tourists’ camp. Batting coach Jacques Kallis, who travelled to Sri Lanka on a commercial flight from his native South Africa so had to spend longer in isolation, was able to join up with the team for the first time on Friday.
And Chris Woakes, who has been isolating on account of being a close contact of Moeen, is also set to be released from his room for the first time on Saturday and will be able to train. Woakes has now passed four Covid tests – one before departing England and three since arriving in Sri Lanka.
The hosts return from South Africa, where they lost 2-0, on Friday and will go straight into another bio-secure bubble. On the field in Hambantota, where the action was little more than an exercise to get miles in legs, Team Root very much held sway. Their captain scored an unbeaten 74 from 117 balls, putting on 51 with Zak Crawley (46 from 79) and an unbroken 95 with Dan Lawrence (46 from 66).
With the weather forecast uncertain for the second and final day of the game, England opted to end each innings after 50 overs. Team Root amassed 184 for two before getting stuck into Team Buttler’s top order, with three of England’s expected top six falling within three overs.
Ollie Robinson had Dom Sibley caught at second slip, then Jimmy Anderson had Jonny Bairstow caught behind and bowled England’s vice-captain Buttler through the gate in successive balls. Sam Curran dug out a hat-trick ball but was bowled by Robinson not long after.
Ben Foakes was dismissed by Jack Leach, who will be key in Moeen’s absence next week but has not played for England for more than a year, with a beautiful delivery that turned past the outside edge to bowl him. That brought Ollie Pope to the crease. The Surrey batsman is not expected to be available until the Tests in India next month but is stepping up his rehabilitation after the second major shoulder operation of his career.
Leach also dismissed Dom Bess, which saw Sibley return to the crease. After 17 overs, Team Buttler had limped to 56 for six.
They were 91 for six at tea, 30 overs in, with Pope on 39 and Sibley hitting 12 at the second attempt.
The performance of Lawrence, who looks set to debut from No5 next week, was particularly encouraging. He came to the crease after Bess had James Bracey caught at mid-on, and leg-spinner Mason Crane had Crawley caught behind off the under edge.
Root finding form is also pleasing for England, with Pope, Rory Burns and Ben Stokes all absent for this leg of their long sub-continental adventure.