England batsman Jonny Bairstow says he does not have a point to prove on the tour of Sri Lanka.
Bairstow, 31, has not played a Test in over a year, but could be recalled for next week’s first Test in Galle in the absence of Rory Burns, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope.
“I genuinely think that my game is in the best place it has been,” Bairstow said. “I believe I can make a huge contribution to England in the Test arena. I’ve proved it in the past.”
The first match of the two-Test series in Galle gets under way on 14 January.
Bairstow has played 70 Tests for England, scoring 4,030 runs at an average of 34.74.
However, he averaged only 18.55 in 2019 and was dropped for the tour of New Zealand.
He returned to play one Test in South Africa in December 2019, but has not featured in the longest format since.
His return in Sri Lanka is likely to be as a specialist batsman, with Jos Buttler having established himself as first-choice wicketkeeper.
Bairstow said: “People keep saying points to prove, this, that and the other. I’ve answered a lot of questions in the past.
“This is now a time for me to enjoy going into a Test series and relish the opportunity.”
The most recent of Bairstow’s six Test hundreds came in Sri Lanka in 2018, when he was employed at number three, the role he is most likely to fill this time around.
“To go out there and bat at three will be great,” he said. “If that’s the case, bring it on.”
England begin the first of two intra-squad warm-up matches in Hambantota on Friday, scheduled to be played over two days.
They will do so without Moeen Ali, who is in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus, and Chris Woakes, who was deemed to have been in close contact with Moeen.
Moeen will almost certainly miss the first Test, leaving off-spinner Dom Bess and slow left-armer Jack Leach as England’s first-choice spinners.
Like Bairstow, Leach has also gone more than a year without playing Test cricket after falling ill last winter, then losing his place to Bess during the home summer.
“The last year or so there have been lows for me and you question if the opportunity to play for England will come again,” Leach told Inside Track on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I feel excited to get the opportunity again, so I want to make the most of it and enjoy it. I feel I play my best cricket with a smile on my face, so that is what I’ll try to do.”
Leach, 29, suffers from Crohn’s disease. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he was told by the government that he was classed as ‘vulnerable’.
“That was hard to deal with because I felt like I was healthy,” he said. “It was a little bit scary. I had some really good support from doctors and psychologists to work through that.”
Leach said precautions taken in England’s hotel include meals being delivered to players’ rooms by staff in hazmat suits.
“The Sri Lanka government have made sure that we’re safe and the public are safe,” he said. “There are some weird things when you stop and think about it, but these are the times we’re living in.”
With Moeen unavailable, England’s warm-up games allow Mason Crane, Amar Virdi and Matt Parkinson – the trio of spinners among the reserves to the main Test squad – to press their claims for promotion.
Batsman Ollie Pope, who suffered a dislocated shoulder at the end of the summer, will also play as part of his rehabilitation, but he is not in contention to feature in the Test series.
Team Root: Zak Crawley, James Bracey, Joe Root, Dan Lawrence, Ben Foakes, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach, Mark Wood, James Anderson, Matt Parkinson.
Team Buttler: Dom Sibley, Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Olly Stone, Stuart Broad, Saqib Mahmood, Mason Crane, Amar Virdi.
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