After a dramatic final-day defeat to India at Lord’s, England bounced back spectacularly in the third Test at Headingley, beating the visitors inside four days by an innings and 76 runs.
Crucially for England, the changes they made to the side after the second Test worked a treat: Dawid Malan slotted in at No.3 with an impressive 70, while Craig Overton celebrated his own return with six wickets in the match and a handy 32 with the bat.
Nonetheless, the hosts will have to tweak their winning formula for the fourth Test – Jos Buttler is away on paternity leave, which means there is a spot vacant in the middle order.
Beyond the absence of Buttler, the other major headline from the squad announcement for the fourth Test was the return of Chris Woakes. The right-arm quick has not played Test cricket since last summer and missed the first three Tests of the India series due to a heel injury.
We take a look at the key selection questions facing head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root ahead of the fourth Test at The Oval, beginning this Friday:
Who slots into the vacant middle-order spot?
With Buttler unavailable – Jonny Bairstow is to take the gloves – a spot has opened up in the middle order and, of the names in the squad, there are two candidates for the role: Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope.
Lawrence played in the first Test of the series but was discarded after scores 0 and 25 as England shifted the balance of their XI with the reintroduction of spin-bowling all-rounder Moeen Ali at No.7. Meanwhile Pope has yet to feature after a quad injury derailed him ahead of the series – his return to match fitness involved a few matches for Surrey in the Royal London One-Day Cup, but he managed just 16 runs across three innings.
Should Pope make his return to the side in the fourth Test, it’ll be the first time he plays for England at his home ground. After 18 first-class innings at The Oval, Pope has racked up 1,410 runs at an average of 100.71 and seven hundreds.
Who could Chris Woakes replace?
Woakes could serve as a direct replacement for Sam Curran at No.8 in the England line-up; the left-armer has not been able to replicate the heroics of his first Test series against India back in 2018. Three Tests into this series, Curran is averaging 79.33 with the ball and 18.50 with the bat after recording a kind pair at Lord’s.
But it may well be that England disregard the straight swap and opt for something entirely else…
Should one of James Anderson or Ollie Robinson be rested?
Anderson and Robinson have been the two standout bowlers for England in the series: the former has taken 13 wickets at an average of 19.23 while the latter is the leading wicket-taker across both sides with 16 at 19.06. But with just a three-day break between the fourth and fifth Tests of the series, could one of the two leading lights be granted a breather at The Oval? “What I don’t want to do is break them,” said Silverwood after victory at Headingley.
Woakes coming in for either one of Anderson or Robinson would pave the way for Curran to keep his spot, but then there’s Mark Wood to consider as well. The Durham paceman missed the third Test after injuring his right shoulder but is in the squad for The Oval and said to be recovering well.