Woakes could replace Curran, Pope set to return, Bairstow will keep wicket as Buttler attends baby’s birth
Joe Root has insisted Jos Buttler’s Test career is not over, despite him missing the fourth LV= Insurance Test at the Kia Oval.
Buttler is unavailable for the match as he awaits the birth of his second child with no decision currently made over whether he will be able to return for the final Test at Emirates Old Trafford. With Buttler one of those players who has expressed reservations about going on the Ashes tour in the current circumstances – he is understandably reluctant to either be without his family or put them through a hard quarantine – there has been some speculation that Buttler’s future could be entirely in the white-ball game. But Root, at least, believes there is more from Buttler to come in Test cricket.
“I don’t see this being the end of Jos’ Test career at all,” Root said. “I see someone that is desperate to perform well in the Test arena.
“I think he loves the Test game and he’s a big part of our team. As far as I’m concerned I hope it’s a really memorable week for him and it will be great whenever he is available to play again.
“It’s really important that we respect that to be able to be at the birth is really special. Hopefully everything goes well and on the back of it we can have a conversation and we will see [whether he is available for Old Trafford]. It’s a very exciting time for him and hopefully it’s very special.”
With Buttler absent, Jonny Bairstow will reclaim the gloves and bat at No. 6 at The Oval. That means England have space to bring in another batter, with Ollie Pope likely to win selection ahead of Dan Lawrence.
“Jonny just wants to be as influential in the game as he can and that’s a great trait,” Root said. “To want to take that responsibility on is what you want from senior players. I don’t think Jonny will ever shy away from that challenge. It’s really good that he has that mind-set and I’m sure he will do a fantastic job. He’s done it so many times and done some special things with the gloves for England.”
There is certain to be one change in the bowling attack, too. Sam Curran, who has averaged 79.33 with the ball in the series to date, is set to be dropped with one of Chris Woakes or Mark Wood likely to replace him. Both impressed in training at The Kia Oval on Tuesday. The pair, looking to prove their fitness ahead of the game, gave England’s batters a torrid time with Bairstow, in particular, enduring an especially uncomfortable net. As things stand, Woakes looks slightly ahead of Wood in the battle for the final place, not least as England are keen to have Wood available for the final Test, where they feel conditions may suit his extra pace.
If he does play, it will be Woakes’ first Test in more than a year. In that period he has been ruled out of Tests in Sri Lanka when he was deemed to have been a close contact of Moeen Ali – who had tested positive for Covid – suffered a freak heel injury when he fell down some stairs and been absent on IPL duty. He is set to bat at No. 8 in a strong-looking lower-order batting line-up which will also include Craig Overton at No. 9 and Ollie Robinson at No. 10.
“The last year or so has been an absolute nightmare for Woakesy,” Root said. “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 he ever has been. The white-ball stuff that’s he played this year has been exceptional, getting it to move all over the place. He was our best player last summer. To have him back around things is great, and it can only put us in a really strong position going into this game.”
There had been some thought to resting Ollie Robinson or James Anderson but both now look set to play. Both bowled in training on Tuesday without any reports of negative reactions.
England are expected to name a vice-captain for the game on Wednesday. Moeen Ali and Rory Burns are understood to be the leading candidates for the role. Buttler has been vice-captain in recent times.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo