England in Sri Lanka: The first coronavirus tour

How England’s first overseas tour since the beginning of the pandemic is shaping up

International cricket continues its slow progression back to normality as England prepare to begin their first overseas tour since the game restarted in the summer.

Joe Root’s men begin a two match test series in Sri Lanka on 14 January having not played any red ball cricket in six months.

England’s squad in full looks like this: Joe Root (captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dom Sibley, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.

Moeen Ali tested positive for coronavirus upon landing in Sri Lanka, but joined up with the squad on Wednesday.

The biggest question to answer will be who is to open the batting with Dom Sibley. Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow seem the most likely candidates. The latter has had his issues with the bat on the test arena but impressed on the last tour of Sri Lanka, whilst the former has made a noteworthy start to his test career whilst batting at number three.

The absence of both Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope leaves numbers five and six in the batting order open. Like Bairstow, Ben Foakes made an impact in the first test in Galle in 2018. The Surrey wicketkeeper-batsman hit a century on what was his debut. His chances have been restricted since, but this tour might be the ideal opportunity to make a statement.

Essex batsman Dan Lawrence could be in line for his debut and, depending on the batsman/ bowlers ratio England decide to go with, could get in the side ahead of Foakes.

The choice of bowlers for England depends on how much faith the selectors want to put into spin. On the last tour of Sri Lanka, 100 of the 114 wickets were claimed from spin bowling. England’s spin trio of Moeen Ali (18), Jack Leach and Adil Rashid (12) claimed 48 wickets between them, and with two of these available in this squad it is very possible they could be reunited together. What seems the most likely outcome, however, is that Dom Bess retains his place and Moeen Ali makes his first test appearance since the first Ashes test in 2019.

Sri Lanka come into the series off the back of two heavy defeats in South Africa, one by an innings and one by 10 wickets. Three series wins in the last 10 compared to England’s six is proof that the tourists may be slight favourites, but in testing subcontinent conditions this could count for nothing.

The draw in the final test against Pakistan in August feels like a lifetime ago now, but it did end on a high for some players. Crawley smashed a 267 and Jos Buttler chipped in with 152.

My predicted lineup, for what it’s worth, looks something like this: Sibley, Crawley, Lawrence, Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Ali, Woakes, Curran, Bess and Wood