Ollie Pope set to win nod ahead of Jonny Bairstow for England’s Test finale with India

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

England are set to plump for Ollie Pope over Jonny Bairstow as they weigh up their final XI for the final Test against India at Old Trafford on Friday, which will take place on an unusually bare-looking pitch.

Joe Root confirmed on Wednesday that Jos Buttler, who missed the defeat at the Kia Oval for the birth of his second daughter, would return at the first opportunity as vice-captain and wicketkeeper.

That creates a middle-order log-jam, and barring a late change of heart Bairstow — who took the gloves last week and is England’s second-top scorer in the series after Root — looks set to miss out.

At 23, Pope is eight years Bairstow’s junior and he scored 81, England’s second-highest individual score of the series, in the first innings at The Oval.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The balance of England’s attack will take some deciding today.

The pitch is bare and light-coloured and has less grass than is the England management’s preference. Nevertheless, they expect it to skid rather than spin heavily, meaning they are likely to go with just one spinner.

Root said on Wednesday that Moeen Ali remains their premier spinner, despite adding Jack Leach to the squad.

Leach could come into the equation if England’s seamers do not all pull through.

James Anderson, who wants to play, and Ollie Robinson are stiff having bowled a huge proportion of England’s overs in a series that has seen them without a raft of fast-bowling options.

Equally, Chris Woakes had a heavy workload in his first game back from injury in a year, while Craig Overton has a troublesome side muscle that makes him a doubt. Mark Wood, who could be a handful if there is reverse swing, as expected, seems certain to play, while Sam Curran offers an all-round option.

Bairstow could consider himself unlucky to be dropped having been involved in five vital partnerships in the series, but he has been dismissed four times between 29 and 37 in the latest chapter of his stop-start Test career. His form with the bat is stronger than Buttler’s, but Root trusts his vice-captain’s judgment.

One batter certain to play is Haseeb Hameed, top scorer in the second innings at The Oval. He is back at Old Trafford, where he grew up before moving to Nottinghamshire when his career stalled.

India lead 2-1 in a sensational series and have already retained the Pataudi Trophy. They could bring Ravichandran Ashwin in for the first time this summer if they believe a second spinner is required, while Mohammed Shami is likely to return.

England lost to New Zealand earlier this summer and are looking to avoid defeat in both series in a home summer for the first time since 1986. In 2001, they failed to win a series, and 1999 is the last time they won as few as one Test.

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