LONDON: England have dropped batsman Jason Roy for the fifth and final Test against Australia starting at The Oval on Thursday as they try to level the series after failing to claim the Ashes.
The out-of-form Roy is one of two changes to the side that lost the fourth Test at Old Trafford on Sunday by 185 runs, with bowler Craig Overton also missing out.
They are replaced by all rounder Sam Curran and Chris Woakes. Ben Stokes will play as a batsman only after injuring his shoulder at Old Trafford.
Australia, who retained the Ashes by taking a 2-1 series lead in Manchester, make one change with all-rounder Mitchell Marsh coming in to bolster the bowling attack. He replaces batsman Travis Head.
Roy’s omission is no great surprise as he has struggled throughout the series having made his Test debut against Ireland. The one-day specialist was the latest attempt to solve England’s opening woes but the gamble has not paid off and he has managed only 110 runs in eight innings with a top score of 31 at Old Trafford when he dropped down the order.
England are trying to avoid a home series defeat by Australia for the first time since 2001.
“It has not quite gone the way he would have liked but I’m sure he will go away and work hard and come back again. I’m sure he’ll have that attitude and try and prove a point,” England captain Joe Root told a news conference on Wednesday.
Root’s captaincy, and his form, has come under the spotlight but he sounded an upbeat tone as he looked forward to trying to level the series.
“There is plenty to play for and the guys are determined to make sure we finish the season 2-2,” he said. “We have not lost anything yet. Of course, we are disappointed not to win the Ashes back but we are fully focused to finish the series 2-2.
“I know what direction I want to take this team forward. I want to win this game, use this game as a stepping stone and move forward as a group.”
Root has made three ducks in the series and averages 30 but played down suggestions his batting had suffered because of being captain.
“It’s been a tough year for batting, tough on both sides,” he said. “I’ve not performed how I would have liked but that’s part and parcel of Test cricket.”
Despite retaining the Ashes, Australia skipper Tim Paine described the Oval Test as a grand final.
“We are very hungry, we have already spoken a lot about it,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We came here to win the Ashes not just retain them. As a group last week’s result was brilliant and we played very well but the guys are aware this match is bigger than that one, this is our grand final.”
Explaining the selection of Marsh, he said: “Bringing in Marsh will ease a little bit of the workload on the bowlers at the end of a long series. It was a tough call on Travis Head who has had a great start to his Test career.”
To stand any chance of levelling the series, the World Cup winners will have to find a way to solve the riddle of the immovable Steve Smith, who has scored 671 runs in just five innings at an astonishing average of more than 134.
The former captain, top of the international rankings, has carried his team’s batting with three centuries and two fifties, including a double-century in the win in Manchester, with Marnus Labuschagne the only other batsman who has shown any consistency.
Smith, who returned to Test action in England after completing a 12-month ball-tampering ban, has made his mountain of runs despite missing three innings after he was felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer.
Given a full series, the freakish Smith might well been even closer to Don Bradman’s mark of 974 runs for the most runs ever made in a Test series, set in 1930.
The other key factor for Australia has been the strength of their pace attack, with Josh Hazlewood and world number one Pat Cummins catching the eye with 42 wickets between them.
Australia coach Justin Langer, revelling in having the world’s top-ranked batsman and bowler at his disposal, is urging the other batsmen to step up in the match starting on Thursday, even though he admits they lack experience.
“You can’t just give them that experience, they have to earn that and we’re very thankful to have Steve batting,” he said. “I’ve never seen batting like that. You’ve still got to perform whether you’re young or you’re a veteran, but we also have to recognise they are young batsmen and it’s a really tough school and hopefully they’ll come through at some point.”
ENGLAND: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad.
AUSTRALIA (from): Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and Marais Erasmus (South Africa).
TV umpire: Ruchira Palliyaguruge (Sri Lanka).
Match referee: Javagal Srinath (India).
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019