Three weeks tomorrow England play their opening Test match of the summer against Sri Lanka at Headingley and selectors will be considering their options. So what are England’s problem positions and what might the solutions be?
Head coach Trevor Bayliss likes an aggressive opener but, as I have written previously, I am not sure Alex Hales quite has the technique yet for Test cricket and he didn’t have the best time of things against South Africa during the winter.
The selectors might take the view that he has only had four Tests and warrants more time to prove himself, which is a fair point, but I’m not convinced he deserves to keep his place at the top of the order.
The domestic season is in its infancy but there are plenty of batsmen pressing their case already. For me, there are three main contenders if the selectors decide to axe Hales.
Middlesex’s Sam Robson has played seven Tests for England previously, his last coming in 2014, and broke long-standing records by scoring 337 runs in a match against Warwickshire last week. That was only one game but he’s obviously in good touch.
Mark Stoneman of Durham is someone who has been spoken about quite a bit over the last couple of years but never seems to be taken too seriously. I believe he is a very good opener.
He might not have as good an average as some other batsmen but he has scored some really tough runs on one of the most difficult wickets in the county game, at the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground, so he is one I’d be looking at.
Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth can also be thrown into the mix. The 28-year-old left-hander was dropped after the Ashes last summer but has scored consistently heavy runs in county cricket.
The No3 spot continues to generate considerable debate. For me, it would be really harsh to drop Nick Compton. Gary Ballance, however, is knocking at the door.
There has been talk of Joe Root moving to No3. You do have to think of what is best for the team but why change a winning formula? If he’s happy to stay at No4, where he has had huge success, I wouldn’t tinker.
James Taylor’s enforced retirement means the selectors will have to look at No5. Bayliss will want the game to move forward and to have a fairly positive player at No5, especially with a No3, whether it be Compton or Ballance, who isn’t the quickest of scorers.
Ian Bell is someone who can certainly play that role and I remain convinced that he has a couple of years left in him at Test level. But if England are looking to the future then Hampshire’s James Vince should come into the equation.
Vince has been waiting in the wings for a while and scored a century last week against defending champions Yorkshire. He has been involved with the England Lions and perhaps deserves a chance to show he can hack it at Test level.
The other option is to move Hales down to No5. I believe he would be more suited to that position when he’d be facing the older ball.
Those are the main quandaries as the bowling more or less picks itself with a seam department of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn. In terms of the wicketkeeper, despite Jos Buttler being a huge talent, Jonny Bairstow has the gloves nailed down.