England captain Joe Root is debating whether to stick or twist with his bowling attack in the fourth LV= Insurance Test against India, with Chris Woakes and Mark Wood angling to break into a winning side.
There will be at least one change to the team that squared the series with a resounding innings victory at Headingley on Sunday, with Ollie Pope favourite to take the space vacated by Jos Buttler, who has left the squad for the birth of his second child.
But there are decisions to be made among the seamers too, with this summer’s mounting injury problems finally receding enough to leave a surplus of options. Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Olly Stone remain long-term absentees but Woakes is raring to go after a frustrating year out of the Test side and Wood has been hitting his straps in training following a shoulder problem.
Root and head coach Chris Silverwood have given serious thought to easing the burden on the ever-present duo James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, who have sent down 116 overs apiece in the first three games against India, but may decide both are indispensable.
With 29 wickets between them and both men averaging under 20 with the ball, they could be pressed into action once again meaning attention moves elsewhere. Woakes could replace fellow all-rounder Sam Curran, who has been light on runs and patchy with his left-armers, with Wood vying for Craig Overton’s spot.
“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 of the dilemmas.
“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, dating back to a period of enforced quarantine in Sri Lanka when he was identified as a close contact of Moeen Ali, who tested positive for coronavirus on arrival.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare for Woakesy,” said Root.
“Whether it’s Covid that’s kept him out 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.
“It is fantastic to have both him and Mark available and it adds strength to what is a very confident squad right now.”
Pope is light on meaningful practice after Surrey’s County Championship fixture with Durham was cancelled due to a positive case in the Brown Caps’ camp, but the familiar environment of the Kia Oval may be seen as the perfect place to reintegrate the 23-year-old. He is still seen as the best young batsman on the county circuit despite a modest average of 31.50 in 19 Tests and Dan Lawrence missed the chance to ramp up his own case when he was dismissed for 34 during Essex’s game against Glamorgan.
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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