It is fair to assume that Ollie Robinson and Craig Overton did not feature prominently in Chris Silverwood‘s thoughts when he took over as England coach two years ago and set out his battle plan for winning back the Ashes this winter.
Nor would Dawid Malan, dumped by national selector Ed Smith in 2018 despite making a fine century in the last away Ashes, and Haseeb Hameed have warranted much consideration when Silverwood was weighing up his options.
And Moeen Ali would have been ruled out of England’s long-term thinking after such a chastening time in Australia last time.
Ollie Robinson produced a fine performance in the third Test to take five wickets
Craig Overton (right) also performed well as England levelled the series against India
Yet all five have forced their way back into the Ashes plans after playing parts in the remarkable win over India at Headingley, Robinson spectacularly so. They are England’s accidental heroes.
Silverwood could not be blamed for the long-term strategy that was meant to culminate with England’s strongest side taking on India in this series and peaking in the biggest clash of them all, against the old enemy this winter.
After all, it was based on taking on Australia with real pace in the form of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone after an archetypically English attack made little impact in the last two away Ashes that ended in 5-0 and 4-0 defeats.
And Silverwood invested much in a top three that included the promise of Zak Crawley and the solid county achievements of Dom Sibley to provide a platform for captain Joe Root to thrive and lift the urn at his third attempt.
Dawid Malan (left) and Haseeb Hameed (right) have both forced their way back into contention for the Ashes
He has had to rip up those plans after being dealt the most difficult hand since replacing Trevor Bayliss, with Covid, a controversial rest-and-rotation policy, white-ball bias and serious injuries combining to derail a coach now in sole control of selection.
Yet, more by accident than design, England have stumbled on a combination good enough to comprehensively defeat India in Leeds and halt a run of seven Tests without a win that was threatening the reign of Silverwood and even skipper Root.
And they look a potentially better side, too, for the absence of Jos Buttler for Thursday’s fourth Test because of the impending arrival of his second child, with Jonny Bairstow taking back the gloves he never wanted to lose in the first place.
Ollie Pope is favourite to take Buttler’s batting place ahead of Dan Lawrence.
Moeen Ali is has also played his way into contention of making the trip to Australia
‘To be honest, I feel lucky I’ve got players who can come in and do the jobs they have done,’ said Silverwood on Sunday, when asked about the change of direction of England this summer.
‘We have been able to create a wider group of players because of Covid and when I’ve asked these ones to step up they have done.
‘Life does throw you curve-balls every now and then, and from a fast-bowling point of view we’d love to have more available but the fact is we haven’t and we have to deal with what we’ve got. The guys who have come in have shown their class.’
Not least Robinson. To be fair to England, he has been on their radar ever since he started taking wickets regularly for Sussex and made a big impression on the last Lions tour of Australia with the height, bounce and movement that so unsettled India in Leeds.
But no one could have expected him to take 23 wickets in his first four Tests and become player of the match after a stunning last morning at the ground where he suffered his darkest hour when Yorkshire sacked him in 2014.
Chris Silverwood and Joe Root must now decide whether Robinson and Jimmy Anderson can cope with the workload
Robinson has also recovered from the controversy that engulfed him on his first day as a Test player, when some sad character trawled through his historic tweets and found offensive ones he had sent as a teenager.
It is no exaggeration to say Robinson looks a thoroughbred who can lead England’s attack into the post-Jimmy Anderson-Stuart Broad era, whenever that may be, and thrive in overseas conditions despite his lack of pace.
‘He’s certainly put his best foot forward,’ said Silverwood after Robinson took five for 65 and his second five-wicket Test haul as eight India wickets tumbled before lunch on Saturday.
‘Ollie does the basics very well. If there’s any movement, he finds it. He’s relentless in the way he attacks the stumps. He’s tall, he gets bounce and has a high release point. There’s nothing to say he won’t have a great career if he stays fit.’
Chris Woakes is back in the squad for the fourth Test at the Oval on Thursday
Now Silverwood and Root, who became the most successful captain in England’s Test history with his 27th victory, must decide if Robinson and Anderson can cope with the workloads that come with such a congested schedule.
Chris Woakes is back in the squad for the fourth Test at the Oval on Thursday and could replace Sam Curran, while Wood is fit again to step in for any rested bowler.
‘We’ll see how the guys are travelling and make decisions from there but I don’t want to break them,’ said Silverwood of his fast bowlers. ‘We’ve got a lot of cricket in front of us and these games are coming back to back.
‘It is difficult because they’re putting so much into every game but we’re looking after them. We won’t make any decisions until we get to London.’
The coach and selection supremo has learnt in adversity not to set anything in stone. And England, in the most difficult of years, have become stronger for it.