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Bairstow recovers to keep wickets in Cook’s final Test

September 07, 2018

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LONDON: England’s Jonny Bairstow (C) plays football with Ben Stokes (L) and Jos Buttler during a training session at The Oval on Thursday, ahead of their fifth Test against India.—Reuters
LONDON: England’s Jonny Bairstow (C) plays football with Ben Stokes (L) and Jos Buttler during a training session at The Oval on Thursday, ahead of their fifth Test against India.—Reuters

LONDON: Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket for England in the fifth and final Test against India after recovering from a broken middle finger in what would be Alastair Cook’s last international appearance.

The 28-year-old Bairstow, who sustained the injury in the Trent Bridge Test last month, played as a specialist batsman in England’s fourth Test victory at Southampton, with Jos Buttler standing in as his wicket-keeping replacement.

After taking an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series, England have opted to keep an unchanged team for the match at The Oval, which begins on Friday.

“We are very fortunate to be in a position where we have two quality keepers,” England captain Joe Root told a news conference on Thursday. “More than anything, they both want us to win games of cricket. There have been no issues or problems in that department.”

All-rounder Moeen Ali will continue to bat at number three, where he was promoted ahead of Root in the fourth test.

Cook, England’s all-time leading scorer and former captain, will bring down the curtain on a 12-year international career by playing his 161st Test and 159th in a row.

India coach Ravi Shastri has promised India ‘will not throw in the towel’ despite having already lost the series.

England’s 60-run win in at Southampton gave them an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match contest.

It also meant India, for all they are the world’s top-ranked Test side, had now won just one of their last nine series outside Asia.

The Oval clash has been given added significance by the fact it will be the last appearance for Cook, but Shastri, who helped his country to a 1986 series win in England, is determined the tourists spoil the party.

“This is a team that will not throw in the towel,” Shastri told reporters at The Oval. “It will come out there and look to compete and not be on the first flight home, rest assured that’s exactly what we will do.”

The frustration for India, who earlier this year lost 2-1 in South Africa, is that two Tests in the current series — a 31-run loss in the opener at Edgbaston and the Southampton clash could well have gone their way, particularly if captain Virat Kohli had enjoyed more support with the bat.

Kohli is the leading batsman in the series with 544 runs at an average of 68, including two hundreds, yet he will end up on the losing side.

“I think you have got to get tough mentally,” said Shastri when asked how India could improve their away record. “We have run teams close overseas and we have competed. But now it’s not about competing. We have to win games from here.

“The scoreline says 3-1 which means India have lost the series, what the scoreline doesn’t say is that India could have been 3-1 or it could have been 2-2. And my team knows it. They would have hurt and rightly so after the last game.”

The vexed longer-term question of who replaces Cook at the top of the order remains, as does what England should do when James Anderson — who needs just four more wickets to equal Australia great Glenn McGrath’s record of 563 for the most Test wickets taken by a pace bowler — finally calls it a day.

Meanwhile 33-year-old left-handed opener Cook, whose lone Test wicket is that of Ishant Sharma, hopes to put a run of low scores behind him by defying the India paceman at The Oval.

“Four-one sounds better than three-two. But if I could play a really good innings that would be fantastic,” said Cook. “I think I must regret getting Ishant Sharma out as my [Test] wicket, because he’s kind of got his revenge since by getting me out constantly over the last couple of series.

“The ball going away from me from around the wicket I found the hardest to conquer.”

England too have struggled away from home lately but Cook said the future was bright for Root’s men.

“This team is now is more talented that any I’ve played in as a group of people,” he insisted. “They can do special things on their day. It’s just a question of whether they can be more consistent and more adept away from home.”

Teams:

ENGLAND: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Moeen Ali, Joe Root (captain), Jonny Bairstow (wicket-keeper), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson..

INDIA (probable): Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and Joel Wilson (West Indies).

TV umpire: Bruce Oxenford (Australia).

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe).

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018