Jonny Bairstow to keep wicket for England at The Oval in fifth Test against India

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Jonny Bairstow will regain England’s Test wicketkeeping gloves from Jos Buttler at The Oval after proving he has recovered sufficiently from his broken finger.

The switch comes after Bairstow had to play as a specialist batsman against India in Southampton last week while the finger he broke previously at Trent Bridge was still healing.

England completed a series victory over India with a 60-run success at the Ageas Bowl, and it was thought highly likely Buttler would retain the gloves for the final Specsavers Test of the summer.

It was Bairstow rather than Buttler who was busy with his wicketkeeping drills, however, as England prepared at The Oval over the past two days.

Then shortly before captain Joe Root addressed an early-afternoon press conference on Thursday, a statement on the England and Wales Cricket Board website read: “Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket after recovering from a broken middle finger.”

On the same topic, Root added: “I hope (Jonny) uses it as a real driving force to keep improving.”

Root also spoke about the moment England’s all-time record runscorer Alastair Cook informed him this Test would be the last of his career.

Asked for his reaction when Cook confided in him last week, he paused before saying: “Sad.

“I’s been an outstanding career – 12 years at the top of the order.

“To have a record like that is some feat, especially in these (English) conditions for the majority of it.”

England have stuck with the same XI which beat India in Southampton to take an unassailable 3-1 lead.

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How Ollie Pope in the top order can be a long-term Test solution for England

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England batsman Ollie Pope.

England have won the Pataudi Trophy 3-1 with the final Test at The Oval remaining. On paper, it would seem India have all the personnel and technique issues while it’s smooth sailing for England.

But on closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that England need to plug a lot more gaps than India when it comes to the Test line-up. Even as India started the series without their two main fast bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the team management had enough faith in the pace attack to take 20 wickets regularly.

England scored more than 300 only once while the Indians did it twice, albeit in the same Test at Trent Bridge. It showed bowling was not the issue for the Indian team. It was the batting. Even with captain Virat Kohli amassing 544 runs – nearly twice as much as the next best Jos Buttler (260) – none of the Indian batsmen could manage even half as many runs as Kohli.

India know all they need is a couple of batsmen to hang around consistently for Kohli to stamp his class and secure Tests.

England, on the other hand, have a batting line-up in a state of flux. There is hardly any stability to it and while they deserve all the credit for winning the close moments and fighting it out throughout four Tests, the lower order contribution of Sam Curran (250 runs) played a disproportionately large part in snatching wins from the jaws of defeat in a low-scoring series.

As things stand, England have no clarity about who their long-term openers are after the retirement decision of Alastair Cook. Jonny Bairstow seems to have lost his wicketkeeping gloves for good and with it his confidence. He is now a number five batsman who might have to bat higher and maybe even open if the management thinks it will work.

Moeen Ali starred with the ball and bat in the fourth Test, picking up nine wickets in the match scoring 40 in the first innings. He batted at number three in the second innings with coach Trevor Bayliss suggesting that can be an option going forward. Then we have captain Joe Root at four followed by the middle and lower order of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran plus three bowlers.

The England management is looking at many options for the future but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. England have one young top-order talent who can fix many problems, provide necessary stability and take pressure off some of the all-rounders – Ollie Pope.

The 20-year-old batsman showed good technique and composure during his three outings in the second and third Tests. Granted his top score was just 28 but for whatever time he was at the crease, he looked in complete control of his game. He got out on some very helpful pitches against a world-class pace attack in a series where almost all batsmen have struggled.

Pope and Root can bat at number three and four (or switch numbers). Keaton Jennings and someone like Rory Burns (or Bairstow if the England management has made up its mind) should open. If Bairstow opens, Buttler comes in at five, Stokes at six and Moeen at seven followed by Curran at eight and then three bowlers depending on conditions – three quicks or two quicks and Adil Rashid.

Pope has a good technique and like Curran, bats without fear. The Surrey batsman has it in him to make runs as conditions won’t be as challenging as they have been in the England-India series. And if England persist with him in the top order, many of their issues can go away and they won’t have to worry about asking Root to bat up or down. Problem solved.

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England batsman Alastair Cook rules out Test retirement rethink in future

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Time is up: Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook has left no room for any U-turn after insisting his Test retirement is final – come what may.

Cook, who announced on Monday that this week’s fifth Test will be the last of his record-breaking 161-match career, admits it is a tough call to say ‘never again’.

Nonetheless, pushed on the subject during his round of valedictory press interviews at The Oval, England’s all-time record runscorer spelled out that he will never play Test cricket again after bowing out against India.

Instead, he will play on for his lifelong club Essex – having signed a new three-year contract – an arrangement he believes may be a huge help when the inevitable “mourning” for his Test career kicks in.

At the suggestion he may be tempted, perhaps for example this time next year, to return on the back of a fruitful domestic season – especially if England happen to be struggling – the 33-year-old opener said: “That is a very tough question to answer, but no.

“I’m retiring, and that’s it. It is final.

“All those glorious things are just hypothetical. I have done my bit.”

Cook admits he was emotional when he broke it to his team-mates last weekend that he was about to retire.

He was less so in his Oval press conference, and does not expect to be afflicted either when he walks out to bat in his last match.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“You just don’t know do you what reaction you’ll get from the crowd, but I’ll just be focused on getting some runs.

“It’ll be slightly strange but I’ll just try to enjoy the week.

“We’ve still got a game to win for England – so I want to approach it the same way as other games, but obviously knowing it will be my last.”

There will be one other consideration on Cook’s mind this week too – because his wife Alice is due to give birth to their third child, a due date coinciding with the likely end of the match.

England have not chosen cover for Cook’s position in their 13-man squad, and he does not appear to have his mind set on a dash to the hospital at this stage.

“It’s very difficult to predict,” he said.

“She might have to do it by herself, I think.

“Ideally it will come after the match, or even better you get a hundred and then it comes when they’re about to bat, and you don’t have to field.

“That would be ideal, then come back and have another bat second innings, but I doubt that will happen.”

If there is a small amount of wishful thinking from Cook on that, his plan to play on for his county appears more grounded.

“Being able to play for Essex is an important thing,” he added.

“There is going to be a transition, there are going to be times when you get that mourning.

“I think having the opportunity to play for Essex over the next couple of years will help that a lot.”

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