The question all week for England has been whether Bairstow can bat with a broken finger, and whether he can keep wicket. According to Joe Root’s pre-game press conference, the answers are “yes” and “no” respectively. Bairstow’s inclusion in the team was a relief to most English cricket fans, since the alternative would presumably have been James Vince having yet another attempt at being a Test batsman. No one (apart from James Vince, Michael Vaughan, and people supporting India) wants that.
The fact that Bairstow will play tomorrow puts into stark relief the lack of depth in English batting right now. That a serious hand injury (which the Indians have declared they will target) isn’t enough to force a player out of the team shows a massive lack of confidence in the people England could call in to replace him. That lack of confidence is fully justified, unfortunately. Haseeb Hameed is the only batsman who has debuted since Bayliss became coach in 2015 and averaged over 30. 30. The gap in quality between Bairstow batting one-handed and his potential replacement James Vince is vast.
In other injury news, Chris Woakes is ruled out with an issue with his quadriceps whilst Ben Stokes was apparently bowling with heavy strapping on his knee in training. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that England have elected to bring Sam Curran and Moeen Ali in to replace Woakes and Ollie Pope. Whilst it might be a little harsh on Pope, who only had two games to try to cement his place in the team, his low average of 18.00 means that England could justify his replacement with an allrounder as improving the team’s batting overall.
The fact that England have replaced a specialist batsman with a bowling allrounder means that England will have 6 bowlers tomorrow (although Stokes may be used sparingly), which I suspect will test Joe Root’s captaincy in the field somewhat. It also probably suggests that Stokes and Buttler will both bat a place higher than normal, which could be a problem if England’s top order collapses.
Speaking of top order collapses, many people will be watching Alastair Cook closely in the next game after he sustained what was (for him at least) an unprecedented number of questions about his position in the team. His supporters have pointed to his strong record at the Rose Bowl, where he currently averages 110.00 in Test matches, as cause for optimism. I think it is worth pointing out that he has only played three innings there which means it is a very small sample, and his last Test in Southampton was four years ago. He has arguably declined significantly as a batsman since then.
England’s opposition have no such problems. With no reported injuries or selection headaches, it seems likely that India will name the same XI. The only surprise in this is that it would apparently be the first time in Virat Kohli’s tenure as Test captain that India have picked an unchanged team. The tourists have a great opportunity to claim a second win in England, which they haven’t managed in a Test series since 1986.
In lighter news, the ECB are apparently looking for a new President to take over the ceremonial duties from CEO Tom Harrison (who dislikes the spotlight) and Chairman Colin Graves (who seems to cause problems every time he speaks in public). The position is unpaid, and the ECB have made it clear that the new President won’t be allowed to make any public statements without the express consent of the board. Personally I’m hoping Graeme Swann gets the job. Or Michael Vaughan. Or Geoffrey Boycott. Or David Lloyd. Or…
As always, feel free to comment about the game (or anything else) below.