It may have taken an injury to Jonny Bairstow and yet more concerns about the fitness of Ben Stokes but England just might have stumbled on their best line-up for a fourth Test against India they cannot afford to lose.
Admittedly, they are always stronger at home for the presence of Chris Woakes but even the absence of the Lord’s man of the match allows England to bring back young bowler Sam Curran, who should never have lost his place.
The only worry about England making two more changes for what will probably be the last-ever Test at the Ageas Bowl is that they have chopped and changed more than they would have liked in Ed Smith’s first summer as national selector.
England captain Joe Root talks tactics with Trevor Bayliss (L) ahead of the fourth Test with India
But even that was unavoidable here once it was decided Bairstow could not keep wicket with a fractured finger and Stokes’s sore left knee would again stop him bowling the allocation of overs expected from a fourth seamer.
So Bairstow is promoted to bat at four, where he should help mend England’s fragile top order, and Moeen Ali returns to the Southampton ground where he claimed six wickets the last time England played a Test here, four years ago.
That gives Joe Root an attack for any conditions the Ageas Bowl might throw up, with a second spinner in Moeen and the left-arm variety of Curran that England missed at Trent Bridge because of the premature return of Stokes.
Jonny Bairstow will appear as a specialist batsman but has relinquished the gloves
Now Ollie Pope becomes the second newcomer harshly dropped because of Stokes’s overly-hasty comeback but the bottom line is the Surrey man has not looked ready to score big Test runs against a team of India’s calibre.
Pope will be back this winter but for now England simply had to give themselves the best chance of clinching the series here rather than give India the opportunity of taking it to a decider at The Oval.
Bairstow is clearly unhappy to lose the gloves after all the work he has put in to turn himself into a Test-class keeper, but England look a stronger side for having him at four. And Root hinted Jos Buttler would stay as keeper when he said: ‘There are no guarantees in international sport and Jonny’s injury has opened the door to somebody else.
Jos Buttler runs through some innovative keeper training exercises after his promotion
‘Jos has an opportunity for this game and potentially the rest of the series. This is a great chance for these two guys to keep pushing each other.’
Indeed, it should be considered a positive to have two players of the quality of Bairstow and Jos Buttler capable of keeping. There does not have to be a No 1 and England should keep an open mind on who does the job.
There is also a more secure look about a slip cordon that will see Root back at second and Stokes at third — with Keaton Jennings, under huge pressure here, jettisoned after his shoddy catching display so far this series.
In all the fuss surrounding England, it would be easy to ignore the fact India are almost certain to be unchanged for the first time under Virat Kohli’s captaincy and arrive here buoyed by their commanding Trent Bridge display.
Moeen Ali is one of two personnel changes, coming into the side along with Sam Curran
This, with England 2-1 up, really is an important match, just as it was when these sides arrived here for that last Southampton Test in 2014 with virtually every pundit calling for the end of Alastair Cook’s captaincy.
Cook was cheered to the wicket then by a public who very much showed whose side they were on in the bitter scrap over the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and was given a standing ovation when he had made 50 of his eventual 95.
England won that Test having lost to India at Lord’s, with Cook making 70 in thesecond innings, and went on to win the series. How Cook and his successor Root could do with a repeat now.
This is the third time Cook has been playing for his future — the first was when he scored a hundred against Pakistan at The Oval in 2010 — but this is the first occasion he seems to be fighting a battle he may not win.
With Chris Woakes missing the Test through injury, Sam Curran has earned a recall to the side
Another failure here — and with no sign yet of the arrival of his third child, Cook definitely plays — will leave him with only The Oval to prove we are not seeing the dying of the brightest batting light in England’s history.
At least Cook enjoys playing at this superbly appointed ground which looks destined to join Durham and Cardiff in missing out on staging Tests once the English summer reverts to six matches.
It is a shame because of all the work and money put in by Rod Bransgrove and others to make the Ageas Bowl what it is today. But it is hard to justify another Test in the south when there will be three each summer in London.
Bairstow heads to the nets having been picked as a specialist batsman for the fourth Test
The folly of Giles Clarke’s ECB in encouraging ‘new’ venues to build themselves up to international standard has been fully exposed and it is right that the traditional six grounds will stage all Test cricket from now on.
For now, the most fitting way for the Ageas Bowl to bow out would be for Cook to make big runs in a victory that gives England a notable series win against the best Test team in the world.
Otherwise, with a draw here unlikely, it will all come down to a winner takes all Oval Test.
Either way it should be an exciting end to the international summer.