I would like to see England make two changes to their line-up for next week’s third Test with South Africa at the Kia Oval; Surrey’s Mark Stoneman and Tom Westley of Essex should replace the injured Gary Ballance and Liam Dawson.
Stoneman shapes up well, looks to have a technique which is transferable to the Test arena and deserves to play at the top of the order, which would mean Keaton Jennings moving to No3.
The 30-year-old scored a lot of runs on difficult pitches for Durham before showing his ambition by signing for Surrey ahead of this season. His form has continued and he has scored four hundreds and five half-centuries across all formats.
As with Ballance, the selection of Dawson hasn’t gone as well as the selectors would have hoped. If he drops out, the question is: do you play a specialist batsman, a genuine all-rounder or another seamer?
If everyone is fit and Ben Stokes is able to bowl the number of overs he did in England’s defeat in the second Test at Trent Bridge then I’d look at bringing in another batsman. Westley and Dawid Malan would be candidates but, for me, the former would get the nod.
Westley, 28, didn’t set the world alight at an early age but has ticked over in county cricket and has improved over the years.
I played against him a few times towards the end of my career and he looked really solid. He has been involved with England Lions and scored a century against the touring South Africans earlier this month.
How players deal with things mentally comes into the selection equation as does whether their technique would stand up to the rigours of Test cricket. Like Stoneman, I believe that of Westley and Malan would.
It would be a slight conundrum where the new man would bat, but I would keep Stokes at No6 and pitch Westley in at No7 ahead of Moeen Ali, who has performed really well further down the order.
Those changes would reinforce England’s batting line-up, which came in for some severe flak following their 340-run annihilation by South Africa at Trent Bridge on Monday.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan accused England of disrespecting Test cricket by surrendering their wickets, while Nasser Hussain, another ex-skipper, was less than complimentary about their tactics.
I thought that was a little harsh. England have adopted a more attacking style in recent years and in one-day cricket, for instance, it has served them well and they’re now competing with the best.
It has been their undoing on occasions, though, and the same applies in the Test arena. On a good wicket when the ball isn’t swinging England are a really good side. But too many times at the moment they’re losing cheap wickets.
Players pursuing their natural games cannot always be used as an excuse; the team as a whole needs to adapt to conditions better and, when needed, be prepared to dig in and graft.
They are going to have to get better at that quickly because they’ll be facing some seriously testing pace bowling against Australia in the winter and they’ll need to fight and bat patiently.
The time is nigh really because I doubt the three-Test series against West Indies later this summer will be a true gauge of where England are as a side heading into the Ashes. These next two Tests against South Africa are vital.