Chris Woakes is poised to make his return to Test cricket in the fourth red-ball match against India at the Oval after over a year out of the side.© PA Chris Woakes – Chris Woakes ready to return to England side ahead of Oval Test with India – PA
Woakes won England’s player of the year award last summer, but has not played in any of England’s 11 Test matches so far in 2021. A combination of complications caused by Covid-19 – he had to self-isolate in Sri Lanka after coming into close contact with Moeen Ali, who contracted Covid – the spin friendly conditions in India, a period of rest after the Indian Premier League and a recent heel injury have led to Woakes’s absences.
But after coming through a Twenty20 Blast quarter-final for Birmingham Bears last week, Woakes is poised to make his Test return in place of Sam Curran at No 8.
“He was our best player last summer,” captain Joe Root said. “To have him back around things is great, and it can only put us in a really strong position going into this game and the back end of this series.
“For Woakesy, you look at the last year or so. It’s been an absolute nightmare for him. Whether it’s Covid that’s kept him out, 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 he ever has been.”© Provided by The Telegraph Chris Woakes – – GETTY IMAGES
The return of Woakes is a major boost, given his fantastic record in home Test matches. In England Woakes averages 35.4 with the bat – and scored a century against India at Lord’s in 2018 – and has taken 87 wickets at just 22.9 apiece.
Fast bowler Mark Wood is also fit to be selected again, and his pace could be an important point of difference with the Oval surface expected to be good for batting. Wood is likely to be in contention with Craig Overton for the fourth fast bowling spot. With only three days between the fourth and final Tests, England will also monitor the fitness of James Anderson and Ollie Robinson closely, although England would be very reluctant to rest either given their form this series.
In the absence of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, Root said that England had not yet decided who – if anyone – would be vice-captain for this Test. Rory Burns, who has extensive experience as Surrey captain, is the likeliest candidate, with Anderson and Jonny Bairstow other potential options.
After levelling the series with an emphatic victory at Headingley, Root said that England needed to continue their improvements to take a series lead.
“I think it was a brilliant performance and a template for us to work from. It would be nice to try to replicate and even go one better. I think from a bowling perspective, we were pretty much flawless, hit our lengths early and managed to do that for long periods throughout the whole game.”© Provided by The Telegraph England squad for fourth Test against India
Ollie Pope is expected to be recalled at No 5 on his home ground, with Bairstow moving down to six and keeping wicket. “His record is very good as a wicketkeeper for England and I’m sure he’ll be really looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity,” Root said. “Jos has been our No 1 keeper for a long time now and he’s made absolutely the right decision to be at the birth of his child.”
With uncertainty remaining over whether England’s players will be allowed to bring their families to Australia, Root said that players are continuing to discuss the situation. “One thing we are waiting on is a little bit more information. Until we get that from Cricket Australia and their government, we just have to concentrate on this series and make sure that doesn’t become a distraction. I think it’s really important we keep talking about it as a squad, and a team, working closely with the ECB.”
Root admitted that, although he has now registered the most victories by an England Test captain, the tour of Australia will be crucial to how his reign is remembered. “I think as an England captain you are always judged slightly on how you do in Ashes cricket. I think more than anything I need to make sure we win this series first.
“Then we will turn our attention to Australia, something we have been planning for for a long time. It’s certainly something that everyone wants to do, go to Australia and win, whether as a captain or a player. It’s something you are desperate to have in your career.”