Root backs Overton to thrive in heat of Ashes battle
England are banking on the recalled Craig Overton to step into a role they had earmarked for record wicket-taker James Anderson during the hotly-anticipated fourth Ashes Test.
With the score tied at 1-1 after Ben Stokes’ miracle of Headingley, the hosts were desperately hoping to counteract the return of Australia’s best batsman, Steve Smith, with a comeback for their king of
swing at his Old Trafford stomping ground.
But Anderson’s calf trouble has not cleared and he has instead been ruled out of the series. With Mark Wood also injured and the incumbent Chris Woakes overlooked, 6ft 5in seamer Overton has been thrust into the spotlight 18 months after winning the last of his three Test caps.
The 25-year-old may have just seven wickets to Anderson’s unprecedented tally of 575 but the first of those was Smith, clean bowled by an inswinger during the day/night Adelaide Test in 2017.
“He’s a competitor,” said Root.
“You saw him come into Ashes cricket on debut and straight away he looked very much at home and got himself in a battle. I’m expecting him to do just that this week.
“The extra bounce of a taller bowler gives us a different option on a ground that does perform slightly differently. I feel like that will balance our attack really well in these conditions.
“He’s got good control, good skills and moves the ball of the straight. I expect him to cause some issues for the Australian batters.”
The only other change to the England side that chased down their record fourth-innings target of 359 by one wicket in Leeds is one of position rather than personnel.
Jason Roy will move down to four after an unsuccessful trial at the top of the order, swapping places with Joe Denly followed the latter’s gritty half-century last time out.
Root had previously backed Roy as an opener but admitted the returns were simply not enough to justify a continuation of the experiment.
“It’s not gone exactly how we’d have liked and he hasn’t scored the runs he would have liked,” said the skipper.
“As before we’re trying to find a formula at the top of the order that works for us. Jason is a high quality player and could be better suited to four. We all know what he can do when he gets himself in
and hopefully batting a little lower down helps him to do that.
“Joe’s played some good cricket throughout the summer, he’s got himself in, so it’s a great opportunity for him to go and get us off to a good start.”
Root knows better than most how close England came to surrendering the urn on home soil for the first time since 2001 and appreciates the stage his side have been given by Stokes’ brilliance.
Vast swathes of the country have become gripped by the series and the team are hoping to ride that feelgood factor through the next two games.
“It makes this a very special week and a great opportunity for us to build on what was a fantastic win and carry that forward,” he said.
“You come off a back win like that and it’s a big lift for the whole squad, for that game to unravel how it did and for us to turn up here full of confidence and very much alive in this series.
“I feel that everyone has really got behind both teams, especially off the back of last week in Test cricket. It’s great to see Test cricket seen in that light in this country, and globally as well.
“Every ground we’ve been to we’ve been blessed with brilliant support. To see a full house at Headingley and on day four was probably the first time I’ve seen that for a long time, and to hear more than 15,000 tickets here have already been sold for day five…it’s a great place to be.
“Everyone wants to play in front of those full stadiums and and be a part of that.”