Joe Root hopes England give Alastair Cook the perfect farewell

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The Oval Test will be the last of Alastair Cook's career.

Joe Root hopes destiny has a farewell Test century in store at The Oval for the “most down-to-earth superstar” Alastair Cook.

Root, who took over as England captain from Cook last year, spoke of his sadness when the all-time national record runscorer took him aside last week to explain his 161st Test will be his last.

England subsequently sealed the Specsavers series with a 60-run success to go 3-1 up with one to play, and Root is hoping the stage is set for both Cook and his team to deliver the perfect send-off.

Root confirms the veteran opener is not the type to lap up the fuss, but reasons it will be entirely appropriate on an occasion such as this – and a 33rd Test century to match his age would not go amiss either for a batsman who began his “fabulous career” with a hundred on debut in 2006.

“It would be nice to start and finish with a century – you never know, it might be written in the stars,” he said.

“He doesn’t want too much fuss – but if ever there was a time for it, it is now.

“It means a lot to the whole dressing room, and they will be desperate to do everything they can to give him a great send-off, that means making sure we win this game.

“It’s an extra incentive for us as a group and would be a fitting way to finish a fabulous career. He just deserves a fantastic week, and I hope we can deliver that for him.”

Root feels a particular personal debt of gratitude.

“He’s been a huge influence on me,” he added. “As a role model, there aren’t many people who go about things in a better way.

“He’s the most down-to-earth superstar you’ll ever see. He’s always got time for everyone.

“That’s a great quality to have in any walk of life, never mind a high-pressure environment like international cricket.

“I’ll miss him being around – not just for his runs and what he adds to the team but as a person as well.”

Cook singled out his captain as confidant about his impending retirement before the fourth Test.

Asked what his reaction was then, Root paused noticeably before saying: “Sad. It’s been an outstanding career – 12 years at the top of the order.

“There’s not many openers around the world who can match that, never mind English players.”

He added on BBC Test Match Special: “The way he conducts himself in the dressing room, to every single person, the respect he has for the game, for all of his team-mates and the opposition, it is what everyone aspires to. You’ll never see someone of his stature again in the game.”

Root had one other significant matter to address at his pre-match press conference – the unexpected decision to hand England’s Test wicketkeeping gloves back to Jonny Bairstow, recovered from the broken finger which meant Jos Buttler did the job instead last week.

Root insists there are “no issues or problems at all” between his fellow Yorkshireman and Lancashire rival.

“Jonny has had the gloves for a long time and done exceptionally well for a good period of that,” he said.

“I think he deserves the opportunity to keep wicket in Test cricket. I also think Jos has done exactly the same in white-ball cricket, why mess with something that has worked so well for so long?”

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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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