New boys’ Ashes hopes could ride or die in Lord’s Test

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Chris Stocks

When a coach says he has his “fingers crossed” over a selection then it’s probably fair to say he hasn’t got total confidence it will be a success.

So, when Trevor Bayliss gave that reply to a question asking if he thought Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan could nail down their places in England’s top six ahead of the Ashes, it was hardly a ringing endorsement from the Australian.

Both scored second-innings half-centuries during the defeat by West Indies at Headingley, with Stoneman, the opener playing his second Test, looking rather more assured in posting 52 than Malan did during his painstaking and painful-to-watch 61 from 186 balls.

England’s latest No.5 at least made a score in what was only his fourth Test, following up another stodgy half-century in the series opener at Edgbaston.

There was no surprise then that Bayliss was rather more effusive in his praise of Stoneman, Alastair Cook’s 12th opening partner in five years, than Malan.

“I suppose more than anything, they started to look comfortable at the crease,” said Bayliss. “Certainly, Mark looks like a tough type of player to me. He looks like he’s ready for a scrap the whole time but, when the bad ball comes along, he is able to put it away.

“Dawid has a couple of 60s now, looked a bit nervous in that first one but he was starting to look more comfortable in this Test.”

Then came the question about whether the pair would make the cut for the Ashes. “We hope so,” said Bayliss. “This last Test at Lord’s will be another opportunity for them to really nail it down. But, as you know, we’ve said that before and we’ve had a change after a few more matches. I still have fingers crossed for them.”

Looking at home: Tom Westley played well against South Africa but hasn’t quite reproduced in the West Indies series (photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

For Tom Westley, who has also only played four Tests, any runs right now would be a blessing after his two cheap dismissals in Leeds took his run of single-figure scores to four.

The Essex batsman at least retained his place in the squad for the series decider against West Indies at Lord’s and that Test looks like it will be his last chance to convince the doubters he is the answer for England at No.3 ahead of the Ashes.

Westley started out well, making a half-century on his debut against a formidable South Africa at The Oval and looking at home in the England set-up.

However, he needs to sort out the technical glitch that sees him close the face of his bat and miss the straight balls when he plays across the line. Two of his three dismissals in this series have come that way even if his downfall in the second innings at Headingley was down to an injudicious shot outside off stump.

It’s something the 28-year-old needs to work out, which will not be easy for him to do before Lord’s.  Yet he deserves the one final chance to prove he has what it takes at Test level if only because of the lack of alternative options at three.

In terms of serious candidates to fill the position there is only really one – Joe Root. But England’s captain is wedded to batting at four and, given he is the team’s best batsman and has made a record-equalling 50-plus scores in 12 successive Tests, it would be foolish to move him.

If Westley does fail at Lord’s then the other options to replace him for the Ashes do not exactly fill you with confidence.

The first cab off the rank would be Gary Ballance, who officially only lost his place at No.3 following England’s defeat by South Africa at Trent Bridge in July because of a fractured finger.

Ballance may well have a future in the England team but it would surely only work out if he was batting at five. He was far from impressive in the two Tests he played this summer after being recalled following a horrific series in Bangladesh last winter.

Mitchell Starc and company will be licking their lips if Ballance comes out at first drop at The Gabba in November.

Keaton Jennings is another option but the Durham batsman has already been dropped this summer after being brutally exposed as an opener by South Africa. Why would he fare any better at three in an even tougher series in Australia?

Then there is Haseeb Hameed, who despite a fine start to his Test career in India last winter has scored one first-class half-century this summer.

No wonder England gave Westley another chance at Lord’s. You cannot write someone off after just four Tests. It’s now up to him – and Stoneman and Malan – to make life easier for England’s selectors and produce performances that demand their inclusion on the Ashes tour.­

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