Michael Atherton believes England face a “50-50 call” between Saqib Mahmood and Craig Overton for the final spot in the bowling attack in the third Test against India.
Mark Wood’s shoulder injury has ruled him out of the game which starts at Emerald Headingley on Wednesday, with Lancashire quick Mahmood and Somerset seamer Overton seemingly vying to replace him as England look to level the five-match series at 1-1 after losing the second Test at Lord’s.
Former England captain Atherton told Sky Sports News: “I think they may go Overton but I think I would probably go Mahmood.
England vs India
August 25, 2021, 10:00am
“Overton offers a bit with the bat and is a good slip fielder while Mahmood looked good in that one-day series win over Pakistan so it’s kind of a 50-50 call.
“You could also pick Mahmood and then have the choice between Sam Curran and Overton as all-rounders.
“For some time England have been building up these pace reserves and at one point you had [Jofra] Archer, Olly Stone and Wood.
“Now you have none of those, although it looks like Wood’s injury is not too serious so let’s hope he is back for the fourth Test [at The Kia Oval from September 2].”
England have tinkered with a batting line-up rolled for 120 on the final day of the second Test, with the recalled Dawid Malan to bat at No 3 and Haseeb Hameed to open alongside Rory Burns following the dropping of Dom Sibley.
Malan, 33, scored 724 runs in 15 Tests between July 2017 and August 2018, including an Ashes century in Perth, at an average just below 28.
The left-hander has played just one first-class innings so far this season – but that was a score of 199 for Yorkshire against Sussex at Headingley.
Atherton said. “I think Malan is a sensible pick. He is a pretty experienced guy who knows his game.
“He has had moderate success in his 15 Tests but has scored a Test hundred in Australia, which marks you out as a pretty decent player.
“He is a tough nut and I think [captain Joe] Root just wants someone who is a bit more experienced.
“It would have been difficult to pluck a young kid out of the county game given we have had no first-class cricket for the last six weeks or so.”
England headed into the fifth day at Lord’s as favourites to take a 1-0 lead in the series but were then rocked by an unbroken ninth-wicket stand of 89 between India tailenders Mohammed Shami and Jasprot Bumrah before they were skittled in 51.5 overs having been set 272 to win in 60 overs.
Atherton says that result will “bruise” England and that the continued absence of some key players has weakened their side – but believes they can still battle back in the series.
“England were bruised after Lord’s but if you look back at the two games we have had so far, they have been very competitive,” said the Sky Sports Cricket expert.
“Who knows which way the first Test would have gone [if not for rain] and for long periods of the Lord’s Test they were in control. They will have some confidence but it will take some coming back from after that heavy defeat
“They are missing [Ben] Stokes, [Chris] Woakes, Archer, Wood, [Stuart] Broad – all guys that are first-choice or there and thereabouts so it’s a weakened England side
“But there are still some good players there, with Root and James Anderson two of the greatest players England have ever had. There is no reason England can’t be competitive again – but this is a very good India side.”
Watch day one of the third Test between England and India live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 10am on Wednesday.
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