THERE will be devil in the detail for England at The Oval after they made just the simplest of amendments to their series-winning squad for the final Test.
The shedding of extra batsman James Vince is the only change to their options after the 60-run victory over India in Southampton which gave them an unassailable 3-1 lead with one to play.
Yet the world has moved on already since Sunday’s success, thanks to the following morning’s seismic announcement that all-time national record runscorer Alastair Cook will retire after this week’s valedictory match.
The plaudits and eulogies for a remarkable 12-year career were still dominating back pages and airwaves when England quietly published their predictable 13-man squad yesterday lunchtime.
In it, they resisted any temptation to name cover for the veteran opener – whose wife Alice is expecting their third child, with a due date understood to be towards the end of his last Test.
The exact timing of the Cook’s latest addition is just one of a raft of unknowns as England seek to put a gloss on their Specsavers series victory over the world’s No 1 team.
Being a wicketkeeper, you are in a perfect spot to see what is going on – the angles and what the fields are.Trevor Bayliss
The vexed question of whether Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler keeps wicket is also ‘to be confirmed’, with the Yorkshireman as keen as ever to defy any pain from the finger he broke two Tests ago in Nottingham and get back behind as well as in front of the stumps.
There are more obvious hints, from the squad chosen and public utterances of captain and coach, that Joe Root will remain in the No 4 position he has just reclaimed – with all-rounder Moeen Ali continuing in the spot he was unexpectedly shunted up to for the second innings in Southampton.
Root did not seek to hide his own thoughts on the matter when he said: “I’ve always favoured No 4. It’s always been the place I felt I get the best out of myself.”
Coach Trevor Bayliss, who persuaded Root to move up at the start of this summer, appears to have accepted the deal is done again too.
“All credit to him. He has taken that role on with no problems – he has taken one for the team in that respect,” said the Australian.
“He has always said he wants to bat at four.”
Bayliss’s remarks appear instructive too on the Bairstow-Buttler question.
While Bairstow has made it abundantly clear in word and deed – having tried in vain to convince himself and his team-mates in practice he was fit to keep wicket at the Ageas Bowl – Buttler, currently in encouraging form with the bat, shrugged that he is “not fussed” either way.
After Bairstow mustered just six runs in three innings – including two clean-bowled golden ducks – since breaking his finger, Bayliss hinted that Buttler’s role as Root’s deputy makes him an ideal fit to keep wicket.
“It always helps to have a vice-captain standing behind the stumps,” he said.
“Being a wicketkeeper, you are in a perfect spot to see what is going on – the angles and what the fields are.”
If all that was not enough for England to ponder, while the Cook tribute show inevitably provides a decoy backdrop, the last place in their team may depend on the recoveries of Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes from their respective knee and thigh niggles.
One man still on the outside looking in on the England camp is Surrey batsman Rory Burns.
Burns is the overwhelming favourite to step into the breach following a fine summer, in which he currently sits at the top of the County Championship Division One run charts.
The 28-year-old, speaking ahead of Surrey’s encounter with Essex at Chelmsford, paid tribute to Cook, saying: “He’s had a great career.
“I don’t think I could do it justice with what I say about him. If there’s a spot going there it would be nice but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Cook, who has amassed an unprecedented 12,254 runs in 160 Tests for England, will return to the Essex fold next year.
Captain Ryan ten Doeschate will relish having such a character to call upon.
He said: “Obviously we’ll be delighted to have him around. Cricket achievements aside, his humility and his desire for the game and to share his knowledge is truly inspiring for everyone to see.
“It’s great for us, I think he’s still got a lot of cricket in him. He’s still only 33.”