(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
By Chris Stocks
So what do England do to put things right for next week’s third Test at the Oval? Here are the areas they need to address…
Give the new No. 3 time to settle…
England were forced to make a change at three after Gary Ballance was ruled out with a fractured left index finger sustained when he wore a Morne Morkel short ball on the final day of the Trent Bridge Test.
In his third crack at Test cricket, Ballance has made scores of 20, 34, 27 and four during this series.
He would have been given a chance to improve on that return at The Oval but his absence means Tom Westley has been rewarded for a fine season at Essex with a Test debut.
Ballance might be fit for next month’s fourth Test at Old Trafford.
However, there is no way he can go back to first drop. Now Westley has been chosen he needs to be given time to succeed as a Test player and that means sticking with him until at least the end of next winter’s Ashes series.
England, who have never replaced Jonathan Trott at three since he flew home with anxiety issues after one Test of the last Ashes tour, will hope Westley is finally the man to fill the void.
Play another batsman instead of Liam Dawson
Dawson’s place really should now be under threat despite the fact he has been named in a 13-man squad for the third Test. The left-arm spinner is not really good enough with either bat or ball and the fact Dawid Malan has also been called up means England are considering going with an extra batsman in the middle-order at Dawson’s expense.
That would mean moving Moeen Ali back down to No. 8 but needs must. Given the Oval’s tendency to take turn, England might be minded to stick with Dawson but for me this would be the wrong call.
Give Mark Wood a break…
The Durham fast bowler has one wicket at 1-197 so far in this series and looks ready for a rest after a busy summer that has also seen him feature heavily in England’s limited-overs teams.
Wood was struggling with a heel injury at Trent Bridge and although he has recovered from that and has been named in the squad for the Oval, England have a duty of care to look after the 27-year-old’s long-term fitness and should leave him out of the team for the next Test.
Middlesex’s Toby Roland-Jones, who remains in the squad, should be given his debut after being overlooked for the opening two matches of the series.
Take a leaf out of Alastair Cook’s book…
The one advantage of having your country’s all-time leading Test scorer is that everyone else has a font of knowledge about how to bat in the longest form of the game at their fingertips. Even if they just watch how Cook bats, they may pick up a thing or two.
Nobody wants Ben Stokes to try to ape Cook, but the rest of the top six need to learn how to build an innings when conditions are testing.
This is a basic skill they would have learned in their formative years in county cricket. But the prevalence of the white-ball formats and the emphasis on ‘expressing yourself’ has meant many have forgotten how to do this. Getting yourself in and battling through difficult periods is not going against that natural game if you’re Stokes or Jonny Bairstow. After all, even Kevin Pietersen, one of the most expansive and gifted batsmen of his generation, knew how to tough things out and then cash in later.
Turn all this negativity into a positive…
England have rightly been criticised after Trent Bridge. It’s a defeat that will hurt and the barbs that have flown their way, especially from former England captains, will sting. But the beauty of sport is you can bounce back. If Root and Co learn their lessons and use the criticism as a motivation then winning this series is not beyond them.