Chris Woakes poised to leave self-isolation and press his claims for first Test

Tim Wigmore
·3-min read
England's Chris Woakes reacts after bowling a ball to Pakistan's Shan Masood - Dan Mullan/Pool via REUTERS
England's Chris Woakes reacts after bowling a ball to Pakistan's Shan Masood - Dan Mullan/Pool via REUTERS

Chris Woakes is ready to resume training on Saturday in Hambantota as he ends his period of self-isolation. 

Woakes has been in self-isolation following Moeen Ali’s positive Covid-19 test - the two shared a car in Birmingham en route to Heathrow airport - but has tested negative for the virus. England plan that he will train in a controlled environment in the nets, and should then be able to train with the rest of the squad as normal. 

In the absence of the rested Ben Stokes, Woakes had been primed to play a crucial role on tour, playing as the all-rounder, batting at No7, after his outstanding performances in 2020. Should he continue to test negative for Covid-19 and respond well to training, Woakes may still feature in the opening Test on Thursday. If not, Sam Curran is likely to play as the all-rounder. 

Moeen’s condition is understood to be improving and he is planning to rejoin the tour party on Wednesday, though in practice that will be too late for the first Test. 

Another absentee - Ollie Pope, who remains unfit to field and is not in the main tour party - scored a half-century in the first game of England’s intra-squad warm-up game. Skipper Joe Root made an undefeated 78, before James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach all took two wickets apiece against Jos Buttler’s side, with Buttler dismissed for a golden duck by Anderson. The wicket offered far more assistance for seam bowling than is likely during the two-Test series.

Sri Lanka vs England 2021 details
Sri Lanka vs England 2021 details

After 10 Test matches in largely unhelpful conditions - eight in England and two in South Africa - off-spinner Dom Bess is relishing the opportunity to bowl on more helpful tracks in Sri Lanka. 

"I can't wait. Genuinely can't wait," he said. "It's a great opportunity. As a spin group, it's a really exciting prospect. 

"It's going to be a great challenge for the spin group. You talk about pressure: you're playing international cricket, there's going to be pressure. But I think you've got to flip it. It's the opportunity you can take. And I personally haven't been on many spinning wickets, or wickets that have suited me, and I've really enjoyed that challenge. But now, the eyes are going to be on the spinners and I can't wait.

"I'm trying to bowl my best ball, and I think that is good enough and will challenge batters. It's about having the nous going about it with the fields and putting the Sri Lankans under pressure. These guys have grown up playing against spin and that's why I see it as a great challenge. There could be some egos floating around that I can hopefully get stuck into."

Over the winter of 2019-20, Bess worked closely with Rangana Herath, the Sri Lanka spinner who took 433 Test wickets in a career that ended in 2018.

“We spoke a lot about bowling in sub-continent conditions,” he said. “Funnily enough I’ve still got the voice notes on my phone. I read through my notes the other day about it and there were a lot of things that came back up that showed obviously he was a genius but how simple he kept it. That was something that keeps getting reinforced.

“With Herath it was actually again how consistent you can be in an area – and it always comes back to that – bowling your best ball. And then once you’ve got the confidence, actually changing it subtly. Also playing with your fields. The Sri Lankans are going to back themselves against our spinners and that’s going to play into our hands. There’s going to be a couple of egos floating around I hope because you can get stuck into that.”