Joe Root has called for a “ruthless” approach from his England side when the Test series against India resumes level at 1-1 at The Oval on Thursday.
The hosts squared the five-match series with an innings victory in the third Test at Headingley, wrestling the momentum back from an India side who had won at Lord’s in the aggressive style which has become their trademark under Virat Kohli’s leadership.
England’s bowlers were accused of getting drawn into a macho battle ill-suited to their skills in that game, and ahead of the fourth Test Root stressed the importance of piling on the pressure at The Oval on their own terms.
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“[India] are a world-class side led by Virat,” the England captain said at his media conference on Tuesday. “I expect nothing less than a response. We’d be naive to think otherwise.
“That’s why it’s really important we don’t get too comfortable, that we don’t think we’ve achieved anything to this point.
“We’ve just got ourselves back to level playing. We have to now look to work even harder, and if we find ourselves ahead of the game we get ruthless again and really drive that winning position home.
“As a team, one thing we took away from [Lord’s] is we have to be the best version of our team. We do things our way, we don’t get sucked in to playing anyone else’s game and we go about things in our own manner.
“We did that in a perfect response at Headingley, and it’s really important we remember that. That’s when we play our best cricket.”
Woakes, Wood add to bowling options
England’s discipline with the ball was the foundation of their Leeds success, and their options in that department have been strengthened further by the return to the squad of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes.
Wood missed the third Test with a shoulder injury, while a combination of factors has kept Woakes out of the five-day side for a year.
Root said a decision on any changes would be made after a check on pitch conditions and the physical state of those who played in the last Test, but welcomed the return of Woakes in particular.
He said: “You come off a win like last week and there’s continuity of confidence and trying to replicate a similar performance, but you’re trying to balance that and make sure you don’t blow someone out and injure someone.
“It’s really tricky and something we’ll have to weigh up really well and get right.”
“The last year or so has been a nightmare for [Woakes],” he added. “Whether it be Covid that’s kept him out as a close contact, or a freak injury coming down the stairs. It feels like he’s not played a huge amount, but when he has played he’s been as good as he ever has been.
“He was our best player last summer, so to have him back around things is great.”
In the batting line-up, there is a straight choice between Essex’s Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope of Surrey, who could be recalled on his home ground with Jos Buttler absent.
“It’s an interesting one. They are two wonderful players who offer a huge amount to English cricket,” Root said. “It will be something we look to consider over the coming days.
Absent Buttler ‘loves Test game’
Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket at The Oval in place of Buttler, who misses the game to attend the birth of his child, but Root rejected suggestions Buttler might choose to focus solely on white-ball cricket moving forward – particularly with his participation in the winter Ashes series in doubt.
He said: “I see someone that’s desperate to perform well in the Test arena. He loves the Test game and he’s a big part of our team. As far as I’m concerned hope it’s an enjoyable week for him and extremely memorable.”
Pressed for the latest on the Ashes, as preparations continue against the backdrop of the pandemic and shifting rules on quarantine in Australia, Root said: “They are conversations we will have with the ECB.
“One thing we are waiting on is a little bit more information. Until we get that from Cricket Australia and their government, we just have to concentrate on this series and make sure that doesn’t become a distraction.”
Watch day one of the fourth Test between England and India at the Kia Oval from 10am, Thursday on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event.
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