England resist changes but Test futures at stake in final Ashes clash

Ben Stokes, dejected after losing his wicket on the final day at Old Trafford,  now faces a fitness check. Picture: Getty
Ben Stokes, dejected after losing his wicket on the final day at Old Trafford, now faces a fitness check. Picture: Getty
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England have resisted the temptation to bring in fresh faces for the final match of the Ashes, but several members of their unchanged squad could be playing for their Test futures at The Oval.

The battle for the famous urn ended at 6.15pm on Sunday, when a 185-run win handed Australia an unassailable lead at Old Trafford.

But a 2-2 series draw remains a possibility for Joe Root’s side, a matter of pride as well as points in the new World Test Championship.

Ed Smith’s selection panel would have been tempted to introduce new blood, particularly to a batting line-up that has failed to deliver the kind of first-innings runs required at the highest level, but with only three days between matches, major changes were always unlikely.

Jason Roy, Joe Denly, Jonny
Bairstow and Jos Buttler all average under 26 for the series and face questions over the ongoing roles in the team but, with head coach Trevor Bayliss’ tenure ending after the game, the status quo has been retained for at least one more week.When change does come, it may be in the form of Dominic
Sibley and Zak Crawley, two uncapped openers who have caught the eye this year, or Ollie Pope.

Ben Foakes, the Surrey wicketkeeper who excelled in Sri Lanka before being edged back out to make way for the Bairstow-Buttler axis, will also warrant further discussion.

For nowlast week’s XI – plus Chris Woakes and Sam Curran – have been retained.

Question marks remain over the fitness of Ben Stokes, who injured his right shoulder over the weekend and did not bowl in Australia’s second innings.

England are due to assess him over the next 48 hours but his batting, which brought a century at Lord’s and a contender for the best-ever Test innings at Headingley, would surely guarantee his role as a specialist in the top five.

What it would call for is a change elsewhere, with Woakes or Curran drafted in as an all-rounder with a batsman forced to make way.

Roy would be an obvious candidate given his travails, but it may also be possible to switch the gloves around and retain Buttler at Bairstow’s expense. Craig Overton will be hoping for another chance after earning a home debut in Manchester, though his stoic
lower-order batting on day five was more eye-catching than the seam bowling he was 
chosen for.

He defied Australia for 105 balls before being last man out and expects the same defiant attitude to be present over the next week.

“We don’t give up. I’m pretty sure that’s a character trait of all English people,” he said.

“We tend to fight really hard and, even in a losing position, we will give everything. It was disappointing that we lost but we want to take the character we showed to The Oval.

“I’ve played three and lost three [against Australia] which is disappointing, but they are a good side. It’s not easy to win Test matches but I will be trying to change that next week if I play.”

Overton is one of those hoping to do enough to be part of the post-Bayliss era, which gets off to a busy start this winter with trips to New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

“You can’t look back too much, you have to keep looking forward,” he said.

“There are tours in the winter and people are going to want to be contributing to get on those tours.”