England’s Sri Lankan Test warm-ups have started on a suspiciously green pitch but their spinner Dom Bess is still licking his lips at the prospect of a spin-friendly surface in Galle next week.
After another round of COVID-19 swabs came back clear – leaving the quarantined Moeen Ali as the only member of the touring party to test positive – England finally took to the pitch in Hambantota for a low-key workout between Team Root and Team Buttler.
Captain Joe Root fared best with the bat, helping himself to an unbeaten 74 as his side posted 2-184 in 50 overs on a track that was unusually grassy and highly unlikely to be replicated when the first Test gets under way at a ground notorious for its lavish turn.
In the reply, James Anderson found himself on a hat-trick after successive dismissals of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, the latter bowled by big movement off the seam.
Yet a half-century from Ollie Pope – only present for rehabilitation reasons – turned a top-order collapse into a less grisly 6-120.
On Saturday, any pretence of a competitive match will be abandoned, replaced by middle practice for the main batsmen and long workouts for the spinners in preparation for the start of the series on Thursday.
Bess has already bowled more than anyone else – wheeling through 16 overs for 59 runs and the early wicket of James Bracey hacking to mid-on – and is relying on more assistance when the competitive stuff gets under way.
“It had a bit of grass on it – I’d be very surprised if we got that sort of pitch again out here,” he said of conditions at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium.
“It’s quite clever from the Sri Lankans, whatever they’re doing in terms of the pitch. But I know myself and, bowling on that, I won’t be thinking too much on the wicket.
“It was more about getting on grass again and competing against each other. That was the main objective: adapting to the pitch, the heat and the Kookaburra ball. It was a really good workout.”