England coach Trevor Bayliss conceded after England’s 3-1 Investec Test series win over South Africa that issues remain with the batting personnel.
Opener Keaton Jennings and Dawid Malan, at number five, have been the weak links of late and here we consider who may be in contention to replace them for the upcoming series against West Indies and beyond.
England have made little secret that the 20-year-old Lancastrian is their preferred long-term option to be recycled as Alastair Cook’s opening partner. Hameed made such an impression in India before injury struck last year – and he has finally returned to form for Lancashire this week. Whether that is enough to restore the necessary confidence in time for the impending day-night Test against West Indies is very much open to question.
The selectors have appeared curiously cool about the Surrey opener’s credentials, despite his 761 runs, at an average pushing 60, in his first season at The Oval. Like Dick Whittington, in his case a few miles further from Durham, Stoneman has made the trip to the capital to further his quest for fame and fortune. It may well yet pay off for the left-hander, but some influential people still seem unconvinced.
He has carried his prolific white-ball form into the Specsavers County Championship, with a run-a-ball double-hundred in his new preferred position in the Nottinghamshire middle order. England may well downgrade that performance on the basis of its Division Two status. There is no denying Hales is this country’s current in-form batsman, though, and he is a conceivable alternative for either Jennings or Malan – because his previous statistics alongside Cook are not the worst of the 11 different partners tried in the last five years.
The finger he broke in England’s 340-run trouncing at Trent Bridge is likely to keep him out of the reckoning for Edgbaston next week, and such was his one-dimensional approach at times on his short-lived comeback at number three that many will moan at the mere mention of Ballance’s name. He remains a favourite of new captain Joe Root’s, however, from their days growing up at Yorkshire – and it is far from impossible he will be back at some stage.
You do not have to replace a middle-order batsman like-for-like in England’s current team. As with Ballance, Woakes’ ongoing recovery from injury may preclude an immediate return on his home ground. But Bayliss has pointed out that England’s extra batsman in the last two Tests was a contingency for prevailing conditions. Bowling all-rounder Woakes, with his nine first-class hundreds to go with 48 wickets in 17 Tests – or even, more left-field, Hales’ Nottinghamshire team-mate Samit Patel – can help balance a team that bats down to the roller but is just a bit flaky further up the list.