England have brought in Moeen Ali and Sam Curran into the side for the fourth Test against India at Southampton. Curran comes in for Chris Woakes, who’s struggling with a thigh injury, while Moeen replaces Ollie Pope.
Jonny Bairstow, who suffered a fractured finger at Trent Bridge, will play as a specialist batsman at No.4 meaning wicket-keeping duties will be with Jos Buttler, who is now starting to take a pivotal role in this evolving England side, more so on the back of a gritty hundred at Nottingham.
The changes mean that England have traded away two right-handers, and now have a total of seven left-hand batsmen in the side – a prospect India’s bowlers will be salivating at. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma have wreaked havoc against left-handers in this series, but this selection, which sees Moeen and Curran back into the side, seems to be a retraction from England’s apparent policy to blunt India by bulking up the line-up with right-handers. With Jasprit Bumrah’s inclusion, the they seem to be up against a similar menace, if not more.
Moeen forces his way back into the side with noteworthy form in the county circuit, which saw him pick eight wickets and score a double-hundred for Worcestershire against Yorkshire just last week. Moeen’s callback is significant beyond his recent form; Southampton was the venue where his six-wicket haul helped England level the series against India in 2014, which they went on to win 3-1 with three victories on the bounce. England, albeit with a 2-1 lead this time, are very much in a similar mould, needing a win to shut out a resurgent Indian side.
Inclusion of a second spinner may appear a little surprising, given that the Ageas Bowl pitch sports a green look on the eve of the Test and is renowned as one of the quickest wickets in England. But that said, Moeen’s case was furthered by Ben Stokes, who isn’t hundred percent but plays, and an all-rounder for an all-rounder made sense for an England side that’s so comfortable working with them.
Curran returns to the side after having made way for Ben Stokes in the third Test. He was the Player of the Match in the first Test, and England will bank upon him again to tantalise India with the left-armer’s angle, something Virat Kohli and Co. have struggled with. Curran, too, is more than handy with the bat, and his run-a-ball 63 in the second innings of the first Test helped England eke out a close win.
Pope, who had never batted above No.6 for his domestic side Surrey in first-class cricket, was slotted in at No. 4 since the second Test, but scores of 28, 10 and 16 have clearly worked against him, allowing Moeen to impel his way back.
Meanwhile, Indian captain Virat Kohli hinted that his side could remain unchanged for this crucial Test. It is to be noted that India have never gone in with the same XI for consecutive Tests ever since Kohli took charge of the side.
England team for fourth Test: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (w), Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.