Chris Woakes’ England exile is over but India’s Ravichandran Ashwin sits out again for Fourth Test

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 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Chris Woakes won his first Test cap for more than a year today as England made two changes for the fourth of five matches in this thrilling series against India, who once again left out Ravichandran Ashwin.

After England’s thumping win at Headingley on Saturday, the series is perfectly poised at 1-1, with the newly-minted No1 Test batter Joe Root winning the toss at the Kia Oval and opting to bowl first under leaden skies on a surface that looked green but appears a little dry underneath. England made two changes.

One was enforced, with Jos Buttler absent on paternity leave. He was replaced in the XI by Ollie Pope, as wicketkeeper by Jonny Bairstow, and as Root’s vice-captain by Moeen Ali.

On his homeground, Pope returns to England’s side for the first time this series with plenty to prove.

Since a breakthrough series in South Africa in 2020, his career has been disrupted by injuries – to his shoulder and thigh – and he has not made a half-century in his past eight Tests. He could not be making his return at a finer venue, though; he averages 101 in 15 first-class matches at the Oval.

Woakes comes in at No8 for another Surrey man, Sam Curran, who has endured a quiet series. Root said Woakes “knows his body” and was good to go, despite proving his fitness in a single Vitality Blast appearance.

 (AP)
(AP)

Woakes has had an extraordinary 12 months since being named England’s man of the summer in 2020 for his stellar performances with bat and ball behind closed doors. He has missed matches as a Covid-19 close contact, because of isolation, injury and being overlooked.

Craig Overton, who was superb at Headingley, kept his place ahead of Mark Wood, who England deemed was not worth risking after missing Headingley with a shoulder injury. With Woakes returning having played very little cricket, and James Anderson and Ollie Robinson playing all three matches so far in the series, a reliable workhorse was required, and Overton fits the bill ­perfectly.

India also made two changes, including the staggering decision to leave out Ashwin – and his 417 Test wickets – for the fourth match in a row.

They stuck with the balance of four seamers and a spinner, Ravindra Jadeja. They left out their two most experienced seamers, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, for Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav.

All-rounder Thakur played in the opening game of the series, a draw at Trent Bridge, but this is Yadav’s first game of the series.

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