Even though England recorded a very good Test series win in South Africa, there are still questions to be answered and there will be a few guys looking over their shoulders. There are places up for grabs in that XI.
Opener Alex Hales has struggled and he is not right at the moment to bat at the top of the order in Test cricket when the ball is nipping around. In eight innings against the Proteas he averaged just 17 and that clearly isn’t good enough.
I would move Nick Compton up the order and let him open alongside skipper Alastair Cook. Compton had a couple of bad scores in the series and there are always questions asked about his temperament and him putting too much pressure on himself.
But on the whole I think he shaped up well on some tricky pitches. Some people might worry about two relatively negative batsmen in Cook and Compton opening, especially when throwing Gary Ballance into the mix, who is an option to be recalled at No3.
The worry would be the tempo of the game as all three are not the most free-scoring batsmen. The match is not going to move forward quickly and that is going against the attacking brand of cricket that England under Trevor Bayliss have demonstrated.
I wouldn’t have a problem, however, if England were 20-0 off 10-15 overs, especially with the likes of Ben Stokes in the middle order providing impetus and possessing the ability to accelerate the run rate later in the innings.
It was similar when England opened with Andrew Strauss and Cook. They were so adept at seeing off the new ball, and that in turn allowed the rest of the order to flourish.
Another option at No3 could be Ian Bell, who was last week appointed Warwickshire skipper for the new county season. I still believe he is a player who could have a good few years left in him at Test level, despite his struggles last year.
But the gauntlet has been thrown down to Bell and other county players. With England’s next Test series against Sri Lanka in May, if a batsman is scoring heavily in the early part of the season, it will be hard to ignore them.
There are options for England. For me, Jonny Bairstow is in the top five batsmen in the country at the moment and averaged over 70 against South Africa but there is a concern over his wicketkeeping.
He dropped some chances he should have taken and I can assure you that as a fast bowler there is nothing more frustrating. Bairstow could play as a batsman only and Lancashire’s Jos Buttler could come back into the side as wicketkeeper.
Buttler needs a good one-day series against the Proteas to aid his cause. But the overriding point is that irrespective of England’s excellent 2-1 win in South Africa, there is a conundrum which England’s selectors need to solve before May.