Trevor Bayliss braces for top-order void as England seal series with questions galore
Trevor Bayliss has admitted England are no closer to settling on their top-order batting line-up despite winning the Test series against India.
The imminent retirement of Alastair Cook, the on-going struggles of Keaton Jennings and the acceptance from Joe Root that he performs better at No. 4 leaves England with a vacuum where their top three should be.
While Bayliss, the England coach, has suggested Moeen Ali could fill the void at No. 3 as a temporary measure, he gave a lukewarm response to the idea as a permanent move and suggested it remained possible Root could revert to the role.
"Joe has always said he wants to bat at No. 4," Bayliss said. "But he understood where I was coming from [in requesting he bat at No. 3]. I thought it was for the best of the team he batted at three. All credit to him. He has taken that role on with no problems. He has taken one for the team in that respect.
"Hopefully we can find someone who can do a decent job at No. 3 and he can bat where he feels most comfortable. If we had a No 3 averaging 50 to allow him to bat at No. 4 that would be handy."
Moeen was promoted from No. 7, where he batted in the first innings, to No. 3 in the second innings in Southampton. While he has batted everywhere between No. 1 and No. 9 in Test cricket - and recently scored a double-century at No. 3 in the county championship - Bayliss suggested he might struggle to make a success of the position in the long term as he tends to struggle on quicker surfaces.
But with Test series coming up in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean, however, Bayliss did hint Moeen may be given a chance to stake a claim for the position.
"In the right conditions I would not put it past Moeen [to make a success of the No. 3 position]," Bayliss said. "He works hard at his game. In spinning conditions, he can cover that position pretty well at the moment.
"His challenge will be on the faster wickets. But we haven't got any of those for a while. We have winter tours to the subcontinent and West Indies. In Mo's favour he plays spin reasonably well so he has a chance."
Moeen's versatility might also allow England to accommodate another spinner in their team this winter. In an ideal world, they may well like to play three spinners - Jack Leach is the most likely to join Moeen and Adil Rashid in the side - without leaving out the left-arm swing of Sam Curran, the all-round skill of Ben Stokes or a couple of specialist seamers. So Moeen, who was asked to open in the UAE, bat at No. 4 and 5 in India and then demoted to No. 7 or 8 when the side returned to England, may well be asked to adapt once again. Bayliss accepts it's not ideal, but says Moeen is keen.
"Batters would like to have a settled position in the order," Bayliss admitted. "You always find in any era or team there are one or two guys who have to be a bit flexible. Mo has been that guy for us over the last few years. When Rooty asked him if he was keen to do it - bat at No. 3 in the second innings - he jumped at it."
Bayliss admitted England were also undecided as to who their Test keeper should be. Rating Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler at a similar level with the gloves, he also mentioned the uncapped Ben Foakes but suggested having the team's vice-captain - which is Buttler - as keeper could provide some assistance for the captain.
"It is 50-50 [between Bairstow and Buttler]," Bayliss said. "Young Foakes is right up there.
"But being a keeper you are in a perfect spot to see what is going on, the angles and what the fields are. It always helps to have a vice captain standing behind the stumps. Whether Jos is vice-captain or not, he plays a vital role in this group of guys. Both he and Stokesy have been fantastic allies for Joe. Obviously going forward over next five to ten years that group of guys and Jonny will be there.
"Jonny is very keen to keep. He tried it before the match started and was keen to keep but he admitted it was not right to keep. He is one of our better batters so he was always going to play if he wasn't keeping but, going forward, he wants to keep."
Bairstow failed a fitness test on his finger fracture ahead of the fourth Test and there remains no guarantee he will be fit to reclaim the gloves. Bayliss, hoped, however there would be no repeat of the loose stroke that cost him his wicket in the second innings.
"Unfortunately it is not the first one he has played," Bayliss said. "He was very honest about that. He said it was a poor shot. He realises he has to do better.
"But he went away and worked hard with Mark Ramprakash. Our players do not step away from that challenge. They work even harder."
England are expected to name their squad for the final Test on Tuesday morning. Rory Burns, the Surrey opener, will be one of those waiting for the call. James Vince might also have a chance to stiffen the top order.