England axe 20-year-old for Ashes battler
CAPTAIN Joe Root faces a test of his man-management skills after England made two more uncompromising calls at a critical stage of the series against India.
Last week Root had to tell Sam Curran he was being dropped - two Tests after his breakthrough man-of-the-match performance at Edgbaston - to make way for the returning Ben Stokes.
This time, after India's 203-run win at Trent Bridge made it 2-1 with two to play, Root had to inform Jonny Bairstow he will not be keeping wicket in Southampton and Ollie Pope that he is dropped, two Tests into his career, to allow Moeen Ali's recall.
Moeen has been left out of England's XI for the past six Tests after struggling with the bat in Australia and New Zealand (207 runs at 18.81 across six Tests) but has been in a rich vein of form on the county circuit, most recently scoring 219 for Worcestershire.
Pope scored 54 runs across his first two Tests and misfired in both innings at Edgbaston (10 and 16) but Root insists his axing has little to do with how he has performed.
"I think [Pope] is a very good player who has shown a lot of promise in his international start," Root said. "The thinking is purely for the balance of the side. It is no reflection on how he has gone in the first two games. We could get to the Oval and it'll be very different again - that is being a part of a squad. At all times, you're not far away from playing. It doesn't just take 11 guys to win a series."
Bairstow had hoped to retain the gloves for the fourth Test which starts on Thursday, despite his broken finger, but he will play as a specialist batsman in Pope's No.4 position, with Jos Buttler behind the stumps.
"It was a medical call," Root said on Bairstow.
"He will be disappointed. But ultimately we've got to make sure we do the best thing for this team to win this game - and we believe Jos is the right man to do it this time around."
England will not risk Chris Woakes' thigh injury, with Curran back in his place - and as well as all-rounder Moeen's presence at the expense of Pope, a misfiring slip cordon has a retro look as the captain and Stokes rejoin Alastair Cook.
Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli senses his side have a chance to seize the moment against England in Southampton.
As the tourists bid this summer to become only the second team in Test history to recover from a 2-0 deficit and prevail in a five-match series, Kohli indicated they will break with their own modern tradition here by naming an unchanged line-up.
Ravi Ashwin has recovered from the hip injury which troubled him during his team's 203-run victory at Trent Bridge.
And in this fourth match of five, for the first time in 46 Tests - a sequence predating Kohli's tenure as captain, all the way back to Lord's in 2014 - India look set to stick with the same XI.
And Kohli is confident his world No.1 team have a golden opportunity to consolidate their fightback.
"Right now we understand we are in a very exciting position," he said. "We have gained momentum at the right time in the series and played like that when 2-0 down - when everyone thought that it is going to be a clean sweep, or we are going to be rolled over.
"We understood ... it was just about capitalising on the big moments during the Test match ... making sure we are relentless and ruthless - which we did in Nottingham.
"If Nottingham was hard work, this is going to be even harder," he said. "England will want to come back strongly ... we understand we will have to be even better (than at) Nottingham."
England XI: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson