England still a work in progress, coach admits

August 9, 2017

England may have won the series against South Africa 3-1, but the make-up of the squad that England will try to defend the Ashes with this winter is far from certain, coach Trevor Bayliss has admitted.

The Australian said the victory did not "paper over the cracks" in the side, particularly in the team's top order batting. 

He added: "It's no secret that we're still looking for guys to put their hands up. There are spots that haven't been cemented and it's up to guys to prove their worth at this level."

Indeed, fans booking corporate hospitality for the Edgbaston Test match might have more than just the novelty of the floodlights and pink ball to be excited about, as calls for changes are coming thick and fast.

England's line-up at Old Trafford included Keaton Jennings as opener, with the Durham man struggling again, making scores of just 17 and 18. 

Bayliss insisted Jennings could still go to Australia as the squad will include three opening batsmen, but many advocates have called for Surrey opener Mark Stoneman to be included. His ability against pace could be a key factor against an Australian fast bowling attack that will get to bowl on quicker and bouncier surfaces than Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada had in England.

If Jennings is replaced, alternatives include a recall for Alex Hales following his run-a-ball 218 for Nottinghamshire against Leicestershire, or Lancashire opener Haseeb Hameed. The latter impressed in India last winter before returning home with a broken thumb, but has endured a wretched summer so far before finally making his first half century of the season this week. He goes into the final day of the Specsavers County Championship game against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl on 77 not out with a chance to make a timely century.

The fact that Alastair Cook has had 11 opening partners since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012 is not the only issue. The number three spot is also a matter of debate, although Tom Westley's scores of 29 and nine at Old Trafford came after a half century on debut at the Kia Oval. Last year, Joe Root came in at three in the Old Trafford Test and made 254 against Pakistan, but the skipper has decided his sublime talents are best deployed at four. 

If Westley may get a run - his onside technique may be well suited to Australian conditions - Dawid Malan has yet to make a score of note batting at five in his two Tests, leading to more debate about his role. One option may be to move Moeen Ali up to five, particularly if Chris Woakes comes back into the side.

While questions remain about the top five, England's all-rounders again excelled and the contributions of Moeen, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow were cited by South African captain Faf du Plessis as a key reason for England's success. He said England have a real chance in the Ashes.

England's bowlers had a better time of it against a South African batting line-up with plenty of problems of its own. They are likely to thrive again against a West Indies squad that struggled in their tour match at Kent this week, but the selectors will be keen to bring back Mark Wood, whose extra pace may be vital down under.

Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription

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