England’s top-order struggles could make it very difficult for Ben Foakes to win a Test recall, Trevor Bayliss believes.
While England have attempted, at various times, to mould Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow into a Test No. 3, the team management have now accepted that all of them belong in the middle-order. As a result, there seems to be no room for Foakes who made a Test century in Galle in November and was later named man of the series.
So, while England’s hunt for a settled top three continues, Bayliss said they had decided not to weaken a strength and to stick with their middle-order – from No. 4 to No. 8 – and not try to adapt them. That means their Ashes line-up – injuries notwithstanding – is likely to see Root at No. 4, Jos Buttler at No. 5, Ben Stokes at No. 6, Bairstow at No. 7 and keeping wicket and Moeen at No. 8.
“We’ve known for a while what our best four to eight is,” he said. “But we make no apologies for trying to fit our best eight batters into a team. That meant trying to find a No. 3 out of those guys. Obviously it hasn’t worked for one or two reasons but four through to eight has been successful in the past and we’ve gone back to that.
“Yes, that means the experiment of batting Jonny at No. 3 is over. And yes, that is unfortunately bad news for Foakes.”
While Bayliss believed Foakes could force his way into consideration as a specialist batsman – by the time the last Ashes series ended in Australia, Foakes was considered first batting reserve, ahead of Gary Ballance – he would also keep pressure upon Bairstow for the gloves. For now, though, it seems it has been decided there is no place in the side for both of them.
“Foakes is obviously a very good keeper,” Bayliss said, “but I think we’ve also discovered someone who can put pressure on that middle order from a batting point of view.”
Although Bayliss accepted the struggles of England’s top three were “well documented” he insisted all of them retained a decent chance of playing in the Ashes. Not only are they “the incumbents”, in Bayliss’ words, but it would require county batsmen to score heavily to displace them.
“The struggles of the top three is well documented,” he said. “They’ve all shown what they can do but it’s about doing it more regularly. Those three guys are incumbents in those positions, I suppose. If they come out and score as heavily as they have done in the last few years in county cricket, then it might be difficult to look past them.
“That definitely includes [Keaton] Jennings. He’s made two Test hundreds and has been one of the heaviest scorers in county cricket. If he comes out and scores a lot of runs in the early matches of the season and no-one else does, then there might not be a decision to make.
“We’ve seen what he’s capable of but at the moment he’s lacking some confidence. It’s not easy when everyone is talking about your position and he’s coming to terms with that as well.
“Hopefully there are some names out there who can score heavily in the county season to give us a choice to make.”
Among those names could be Jason Roy, though he will be in IPL and World Cup action for much of the time, as well as Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and James Vince. The chances of a recall for Ian Bell seem more remote.
“Roy could be a Test player, yes,” Bayliss said. “He’s one of the names that’s been spoken about [by the selectors] over the last six to nine months. James Vince is another one. Ian Bell not as many times.
“There’s a couple of names who’ve done well in county cricket over a number of years that have been spoken about. If those two guys come out and score runs they’ll be in the mix as well.
“The younger guys, too, are starting to put their names up in lights. There were a couple on the Lions tour: Pope, who’s obviously played before, and Duckett have done well.”
With county cricket failing to produce the top-order batsmen required for the Test game, Bayliss also became the latest to question the domestic schedule. He suggested it may make sense to start the Championship season a little later.
“In early season it is very difficult to produce flatter wickets,” he said. “So it’s not easy for batsmen.
“It doesn’t necessarily help the good fast bowlers or the spinners playing on softer, greener wickets, either.
“Maybe you should play some one-day games in the first few weeks of the season just to put the start of the four-day competition back. One day wickets are normally flat and they use a kookaburra ball in that format.”
England took the day off on Wednesday. The limited-overs squad fly to Barbados on Thursday, while most of the Test squad will go home.