England have announced a 16-man squad for the fifth Test against India at Old Trafford.
With the visitors leading the series 2-1 ahead of the final encounter, England can only hope to secure a series draw. India, on the other hand, are gunning to clinch their first Test series win in England in 14 years.
Boosting England’s ranks for the series finale are Jos Buttler – back in the squad after missing the fourth Test for the birth of his daughter – and Jack Leach, who hasn’t played for England since the tour of India earlier this year.
Here are the selection questions facing the hosts as they round off their summer:
How does Jos Buttler slot back in?
England face a tricky call here as the man who came in for Buttler at The Oval, Ollie Pope, top-scored in his side’s first innings with 81. It therefore seems likely that there will be a toss-up between Jonny Bairstow and Buttler for the keeper-batsman spot.
Playing in his first home Test series since 2019, Bairstow has enjoyed plenty of starts with the bat – he has five scores between 29 and 57 – but has struggled to convert them into match-defining scores, leading to a series average of 26.28. Buttler has endured greater struggles, scoring 72 runs at 14.40 in the series before he departed for paternity leave. Nonetheless, as England’s first-choice wicketkeeper across the last two years, Buttler surely still stands as the favourite to retain the gloves, potentially leaving Bairstow on the outer once more.
What now for Jack Leach?
After a prolific winter in Sri Lanka and India, Leach seemed to be England’s first-choice spinner heading into this summer. But he didn’t feature in the two Tests against New Zealand in June and after being ignored once more for the first Test against India at Trent Bridge, Moeen Ali emerged to take the spinner’s spot at Lord’s and has held on since. The balance of England’s XI has hurt Leach – as a spin-bowling all-rounder, Moeen has operated at No.7 in the line-up to let England field four quicks.
After missing out on England’s squads for the last two Tests, Leach is back in the fold. Could it be that England opt for him as the primary spinner and drop Moeen, who proved expensive at The Oval? With Chris Woakes back in the XI, there is an all-rounder available who can operate at No.7 – Woakes averages 70.25 with the bat in that spot after six Test innings. Such a move would seem drastic, however, with Moeen filling in as vice-captain in the last Test.
Leach’s inclusion also opens the door to two frontline spinners in the XI, which would be quite the turn from a side that didn’t opt to play even one in their first three Tests of the summer. Of course, it may well be that Leach just sits on the sidelines again.
Is it time to rest one of the key quicks?
England’s quicks were put through a heavy workout at The Oval as India compiled 466 in their second innings. “We have got some aching bodies,” said head coach Chris Silverwood after the match, “I’m not going to deny that.” Could it be that England rest one of James Anderson or Ollie Robinson? The two quicks are England’s leading wicket-takers in the series, but they have also bowled considerably more overs in the series than any of their teammates.
Mark Wood and Sam Curran are two quicks who sat out during the last Test challenging for a place in the XI.