Joe Root has called on England’s new-look top order to ‘do something special’ as his team prepare for life without Alastair Cook.
Tuesday’s first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle will be the first England have played without Cook, who retired in September, since March 2006. The only member of the current squad who has ever played a Test without him is his old friend Jimmy Anderson, at Mumbai that month.
But instead of lamenting the absence of England’s all-time leading runscorer, who memorably signed off against India at The Oval with scores of 71 and 147, Root laid down a marker for a new era – one in which Surrey’s Rory Burns is set for a Test debut and will almost certainly open the batting with Keaton Jennings.
Joe Root has called on his England players to ‘stand up’ in the absence of Alastair Cook
Cook retired in September and England face their first Test without him since March 2006
Asked whether Cook had been in touch to wish good luck as England set about trying to end a winless streak of 13 Tests away from home, Root replied: ‘He hasn’t yet. He’s probably enjoying not having to worry about anything.
‘He’s a big loss in terms of experience, but it’s a great opportunity for someone else to make that spot their own. Of course we’ll miss him, but it’s a chance to stand up and do something special for England.’
A day out from the start of this three-Test series, ‘something special’ seemed likely to involve a snorkel and flippers. The whole of the Galle outfield was under covers after a morning shower, and the forecast for the rest of the week is not encouraging.
Ben Stokes throws the ball as England prepare for their opening Test in Sri Lanka this week
Sri Lanka plan to send slow left-armer Rangana Herath into retirement with one final haul
But games can move quickly here. There has only been one draw in the last 14 Tests here, with Sri Lanka winning nine of those games on a pitch that has always favoured spin.
The hosts’ plan is to send slow left-armer Rangana Herath into retirement with one final haul of wickets to add to the 430 he has already taken in a career stretching back to 1999. Two home Tests against England have brought him three six-wicket hauls, including 12 in the match here at Galle six years ago.
‘We have to make sure we give him the respect he deserves,’ said Root. ‘He’s had a fantastic career over 19 years and he’s a brilliant competitor. But we’ve got to play the situation and not look at it in terms of it being his last Test.’
Root (centre) has laid down a marker for a new era to begin without Cook opening the batting
With the covers not removed on Monday until 1.40pm local time, neither side has been able to commit to a starting XI, with England still mulling over who will bat at No 3 out of Joe Denly, Moeen Ali or even Jos Buttler. Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes may also join his Surrey team-mate Burns in winning his first Test cap.
But Root was adamant that England’s lack of preparation time could not be part of their thinking as they aim for a first Test series win in Sri Lanka since Nasser Hussain’s team came from behind to win 2-1 in 2000-01.
‘There’s no excuse for feeling undercooked,’ he said. ‘We’re aware that the weather’s going to be an issue throughout the tour, and we have to make the most of the opportunities we get. We have to be adaptable.’