Moeen will remain in isolation until Friday or Saturday at request of Sri Lankan authorities
Moeen Ali looks set to be ruled out of both of England’s Tests in Sri Lanka after his period in quarantine was extended.
Moeen, who tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after arrival in the country, has been in isolation since England arrived in the country on January 3. While he had hoped to be released on Wednesay, after ten days, authorities in Sri Lanka have insisted – with the full support and understanding of the England team management – he remain isolated for a while longer. As a result, he is now hoping to be released on Friday or Saturday.
While that, in theory, might allow him time to recover before the second Test, starting on January 22, the England management have intimated they will take a cautious attitude towards his return. Moeen experienced mild symptoms of the virus shortly after he was diagnosed and, as a result, will need time to rebuild his fitness. The first Test against India, which is scheduled to start on February 5, is a more realistic goal.
The news, though not entirely unexpected, is a blow to Moeen and England. He was England’s equal highest wicket-taker with Jack Leach on their last tour to Sri Lanka in 2018 and looked certain to play in this series. With England also missing Ben Stokes and, in all probability, Chris Woakes, they are without several of the all-rounders who might have helped them balance their side. Woakes was also obliged to spend a week in quarantine after travelling from Birmingham to Heathrow with Moeen in the same vehicle.
Equally, the series appeared to offer a fresh start for Moeen in this format. He hasn’t played a Test since the first match of the 2019 Ashes.
England have yet to make a decision whether to formally add one of the standby players to the squad. They have three spinners among their reserve players – Matt Parkinson, Mason Crane and Amar Virdi – with Crane the only one of them to have previously played Test cricket. All three have been fully involved in training, though Virdi did not bowl in the warm-up match, and are considered available for selection.
“Poor Mo, he’s had it a little bit tough,” Woakes said from Galle on Tuesday. “He had some symptoms, which I think he’s over now, which is good. But you wouldn’t wish this illness on anyone, so thankfully he’s recovered pretty well.
“It’s definitely been a tough week or so. A lot of the guys have been touching in with him. I was in contact with him all last week, particularly whilst I was in isolation, and I know the guys are playing a lot of PlayStation with him and talking to him through headsets.
“You try to keep busy as much as you can [in isolation], but it’s tricky, isn’t it? I’ve certainly not gone through that before. I know the docs are checking in with him very frequently, a good few times a day to make sure he’s okay, and we also have a psychologist here who is in touch with the players.”
Despite sharing a vehicle with Moeen on the way to the airport, Woakes has not tested positive for the virus for which he credits the social distancing protocols.
“It was like a minibus,” he said. “It was a relatively smart van to get all our kit in and then we were sharing the back of the van. It wasn’t a tiny vehicle but by no means was it a lorry size.
“We took all the precautions: we wore masks; kept our distance as much as we could, and obviously tried not to touch anything. But you can only be so safe, I suppose. It was obviously the right thing to do to isolate once I arrived here and figured out that Moeen was positive.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo