A three-wicket victory over Australia, which puts the series at 2-1 going into the fourth Test, was not quite resounding enough to convert the Bazball naysayers. England remain riddled with fielding gaffes and mindless dismissals but have at least produced a little more of the hope that was distinctly absent after the first two Tests.
Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have made it clear they have no intention of watering down their risk-taking. Instead it is a question of refining their approach as they did in Leeds, the returns of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes proving decisive – even if they were partly forced.
Stick with Bairstow?
Jonny Bairstow will not be content with his removal of a Just Stop Oil protester as his greatest contribution so far this series. The wicketkeeper struggled at Headingley but his most pained display came at Edgbsaton, where he dropped six catches and missed a stumping at Egbaston – fine, if you buy the argument that Bairstow is in the XI at the expense of Ben Foakes for his batting.
Even aside from his error in leaving his crease at Lord’s, he is averaging just over 22 for the series and that figure is inflated by his first innings (78) at Edgbaston. Foakes’ Test average is only 32.2 but it’s considerably higher at 43.62 after batting (the Yorkshireman, by comparison averages 23.39 after batting).
Bairstow is far from the only one guilty of lax hands but he is the most crucial. Still, all the indications are that England are planning to stick by him and Foakes will not be called up.
The seamer’s returns were dwindling anyway, five wickets apiece in each of the first two Tests and none here, though he bowled more economically than Stuart Broad, Woakes and Moeen Ali. Josh Tongue is in contention to return but is by no means guaranteed a place despite impressing at Lord’s and will be needed on stand-by for the final Test at The Oval in case Wood is not fit.
A pitch for Anderson
The other obvious fix is to spare Robinson’s back by bringing in James Anderson in spite of his own struggles this summer.
Anderson’s fate could lay partly in the hands of Old Trafford’s groundstaff, who will aim to get enough nip in the wicket to ensure he fares better than at Edgbaston and Lord’s.
Who bats at 3?
Once Ollie Pope had been ruled out of the series with a dislocated shoulder, Harry Brook was moved up the order to No 3 instead of a call-up for Dan Lawrence. For the second innings, however, Moeen made a surprise appearance at the crease following Ben Duckett’s dismissal.
It did not pay off for Moeen, who was bowled for five, but it did for Brook, who was back down at No 5 and delivered the most important knock of his career that effectively won England the match. The conundrum they now face is potentially sacrificing another innings like that to put him at 3 again.
The other option is to persevere with Moeen, not least because Joe Root has long been reluctant to move any higher up the order.
Relieve pressure on Stokes
The middle order is not likely to change too drastically but consideration will need to be given as to how best protect Stokes, who might otherwise have been a candidate to bat at 3. The captain, who began the series nursing a knee injury, has had to overcome a battered and bruised lower torso but was clearly in considerable pain when he came in to bat after lunch on day four.
It is unlikely he will bowl at Old Trafford, with just 26 overs under his belt all series and none at Headingley. There is also more onus on the batters around him, namely Root, Brook and Bairstow, to hold out and not leave England dependent on the skipper – without whom they would not have still been in the match without his first innings 80.