England skipper Joe Root has urged his side to ram the volley of disparaging words down their critics’ throats when the third Investec Test with South Africa – the 100th to be staged at the Kia Oval – starts on Thursday.
The hosts will head into the showdown fielding at least two debutants with seamer Toby Roland-Jones set to make his international red-ball bow alongside Tom Westley, who was confirmed last week as England’s new No3 batsman.
Vice-captain Ben Stokes has already spoken of the need to right the wrongs of a 340-run annihilation in the second clash at Trent Bridge, which prompted former skipper Michael Vaughan to question whether Root’s side respected Test cricket.
Vaughan was not alone in his criticism and, while Root took exception to such comments after a game which saw the four-match series levelled at 1-1, the 26-year-old has demanded a more tangible response from his players.
“It’s his job to be opinionated and give his view on what he sees. Nobody agrees on everything all of the time,” said Root. “They are entitled to their opinions. They are entitled to speak out and say things how they see it.
“It’s important that we, as a side, remain true to each other. We know we weren’t good enough last week but effort has never been the issue. The guys do really care. They are desperate to win and perform well in an England shirt.
“They don’t want to let anyone down and it’s a great opportunity this week for us to show what it means to play for England.”
Middlesex’s Roland-Jones, who made his one-day international debut against the Proteas in May, will replace Mark Wood after he succumbed to an ongoing heel injury. The 29-year-old has taken 29 County Championship wickets so far this summer.
“Toby has had a fine couple of years and it is a very exciting time, as it is for anyone who makes their Test debut,” added Root. “I’m really excited for him and I’m sure he’s desperate to show everyone what he can do with the red ball for England.”
Root has confirmed that he will take a look at the pitch and assess conditions before deciding whether to continue with all-rounder Liam Dawson or play an extra batsman in Dawid Malan, who is also uncapped at Test level.
He said: “It’s important to look at the surface and see what we think is going to be the best side to take South Africa on in those conditions.”