Published: 16th February, 2017
Ben Foakes will make his first appearance of the Lions tour in the first four-day game against Sri Lanka A which starts at the Pallekele International Stadium tomorrow – after coming through a rigorous fitness test on his 24th birthday yesterday.
The Surrey wicketkeeper-batsman, who is on familiar territory in Sri Lanka where he had a short stint in club cricket in Colombo as well as making a previous Lions tour, endured a frustrating opening week because of a back problem that had originally occurred in the nets with Surrey, and then flared up again after the long journey to the sub-continent.
But after passing that initial test when the Lions arrived in Kandy on Wednesday afternoon, he removed any lingering doubts about his fitness in a long session with England wicketkeeping coach Bruce French on the outfield at the Pallekele Stadium on Thursday.
Now Foakes is keen to pick up where he left off as the outstanding performer in the Lions’ victory over Afghanistan in a first-class match in Abu Dhabi in December.
“Luckily the back has come right at the right time,” he said.
“It happened the week before we came, just batting in the nets, my back felt a bit dodgy – I faced another ball and it was shot.
“I got it scanned, and that showed a bulging disc. It wasn’t bad enough to stop me coming out here, and it got a little bit better in the rest of the week at home. But when we flew out here, sitting down on the flight it got worse again.”
That meant Foakes was unable to play in the warm-up game against a Sri Lankan Board President’s XI in Moratuwa.
“I was hoping to be involved for the last day, but I wasn’t quite ready,” he explained.
So while the rest of the squad checked into their hotel after the four-hour road journey from Colombo up to Kandy, Foakes, French and the Lions medical staff had to jump off the coach for an individual fitness test at Pallekele.
“A nice way to spend your birthday – a four-hour coach journey then a proper fitness test,” Foakes reflected with a grin. But passing that test was the gift he wanted.
After a slightly frustrating winter with the Lions in Dubai in 2015-16, he had followed up his outstanding 2016 season with Surrey by making 70 and 89 not out against Afghanistan, the latter a crucial effort against the Afghan spinners – and then collected a couple of stumpings off Jack Leach.
He sees the Lions tour, with a five-match one-day series to follow the two four-day matches, as the perfect way to prepare for the 2017 summer with Surrey – in addition to gaining further experience of the sub-continent against an experienced Sri Lanka A side.
“I played for the Colts Cricket Club in Colombo, so I know my way around,” he added. “I’ve been to Kandy twice before as well, but the first time I ran the drinks and the second it rained, so I’m looking forward to getting out there.
“With the North-South Series in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the way back from Sri Lanka, we pretty much go straight into the season. So I just want to do as well as I can, and improve as much as I can, then hopefully I can get a good start with Surrey in the spring.”