England seek batting answers before third Test

July 19, 2017

Cricket lovers booking corporate hospitality for the third Test between England and South Africa at the Kia Oval may be watching closely to see how the selectors respond following the second Test at Trent Bridge.

Having won the opening Test at Lord's by 211 runs, Joe Root's men went into the Nottingham Test in high spirits, but were swiftly brought down to earth as the South Africans fought back hard and eventually won by the emphatic margin of 340 runs. 

With the side being bowled out for 205 and 133, much attention has been focused on the batting, with newcomer Keaton Jennings and the recalled Gary Ballance coming in for criticism. The decision to leave out an extra batsman to field two spinners on a pitch that turned much less than Lord's has also been questioned, with Liam Dawson returning modest figures with the ball and scoring just 18 runs in the two matches. 

Ballance has faced criticism of his technique due to his habit of moving deep into his crease when playing fast bowling, but longer-term questions over his place will have to be shelved for now after a post-match x-ray revealed the Yorkshire batsman has broken a finger and will miss the Kia Oval Test. If Dawson is left out, England may draft in two batsmen.

Surrey's Mark Stoneman is a hot tip to make his debut on his new home ground following his move south from Durham. Other names in the frame include Tom Westley and Dawid Malan.  

Discussing England's batting, former captain Michael Vaughan insisted both Ballance and Jennings have Test futures. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live about Ballance, he remarked: "He can have a Test career, but it should be at number five.

"They're doing the lad a disservice. It's unfair on a player who struggled the last time he was batting at number three.

"He goes back to Yorkshire and scores a barrel of runs at four and five, plays for the Lions at number four, then at the first Test he is thrown back in at three. It's wrong."

Vaughan also had kind words for Jennings, who made a century on his Test debut in India, but has endured a torrid time against South Africa's powerful pace attack. He said: "I certainly don't want to see a young kid who has only played four Test matches put on to the scrap heap.

"Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are the best combination to face at the moment in Test cricket, so it's not easy."

England's batting concerns extend beyond the names of those putting on the pads, however, with critics arguing that the attacking approach taken at the crease is the reason for most of England's recent defeats. An unwillingness to graft in difficult circumstances has led to a succession of collapses.

Vaughan accused the team of "not respecting Test cricket" - a suggestion Root made a point of rejecting in post-match interviews - while BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew said they need to curb the "champagne cricket" style that has become so prevalent.

However, under the new Root regime, England have a chance to adapt their play - and the selectors may be able to help in the decision they make ahead of the Test.

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