England captain Joe Root is debating whether to stick or twist with his bowling attack in the fourth LV= Insurance Test against India, with concerns over the workloads of James Anderson and Ollie Robinson.
Both players were instrumental to the series-levelling win at Headingley and would comfortably form part of England’s best XI for Thursday’s clash at the Kia Oval.
But they have also shouldered a big burden over the past three games, each bowling more than 116 overs, and two more back-to-back Tests in the next fortnight could be too much to ask.
With long-term injuries to Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Olly Stone, the idea of rest and rotation had been temporarily put on ice, although that could be about to change. With Chris Woakes back in the squad and pushing for a long-awaited return to the red-ball side, not to mention positive signs around Mark Wood’s shoulder problem, there is a selection headache brewing.
One temptation must be to stand down 39-year-old Anderson, preserving him for the series decider at his home ground of Emirates Old Trafford, but going in without the most prolific paceman in history is not a decision to be taken lightly.
“I think it’s really important we see where everyone is at over the next couple of days, physically. It’s such a tricky balancing act at the minute,” said Root.
“Trying to manage workloads alongside performance is something in the current climate, with the games coming thick, that is always going to be tricky. You come off a win like last week and there’s continuity of confidence and trying to replicate a similar performance, but you’re trying to balance that and make sure you don’t blow someone out and injure someone.
“It’s really tricky and something we’ll have to weigh up really well and get right.”
Should the ever-reliable Woakes make the XI, it would mark his first appearance since being named as England’s Test player of the 2020 season. Since then he has endured a sequence of unfortunate setbacks and is raring to go.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare for Woakesy,” said Root.
“Whether it’s Covid that’s kept him out – being a close contact – or a freak injury coming down the stairs, it feels like he’s not played a huge amount of cricket. But when he has played he’s been as good as ever. He was our best player last year. The white-ball stuff that’s he’s played has been exceptional, getting it to move all over the place, so to have him back around things is great.”
England will make one enforced change to their winning formula, with Jos Buttler having left the squad in preparation for the birth of his second child. Jonny Bairstow will take over as wicketkeeper, with a vacant batting spot going to Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence.
Pope is light on meaningful practice after Surrey’s County Championship fixture with Durham was cancelled due to coronavirus, but the familiar environment of the Kia Oval may be seen as the perfect place to reintegrate the 23-year-old.
“It’s an interesting one. They are two wonderful players who offer a huge amount to English cricket,” said Root.
“It will be something we look to consider over the coming days. With Dan coming out of a first-class game and Ollie at his home ground, there’s a number of things to consider.”
India’s main selection issue revolves around whether or not to change their blueprint and recall senior spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Leaving out a player with 413 Test wickets and five centuries is a luxury they may no longer feel able to indulge.
“I think his record speaks for itself, he’s a world class player,” said Root.
“We’ve seen him score runs and take wickets against us and we know what he is capable of in the Test arena. Ultimately you can get wrapped up in playing the player but it’s important that you just play the delivery, play the situation you find yourself in.
“Whoever it is that we face up against this week, just play what’s right in front of you, not the reputation. It will be exactly the same if it is him we come up against.”
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