Trevor Bayliss has insisted that England do not require eight batsmen, despite their improved showing at The Oval.
England drafted two new batsmen, Tom Westley at No. 3 and Dawid Malan at No. 5, into the team defeated at Trent Bridge meaning that Moeen Ali was pushed down to No. 8. But a crushing victory might have been interpreted as a vindication of that approach.
Now, though, Bayliss, the England coach, has confirmed that the balance of the team was reflective only of conditions at The Oval, where the ball provided copious assistance for the seamers, and hinted they could revert to a line-up that includes seven batsmen and two spinners for the final Test starting at Old Trafford on Friday.
With England naming a very similar squad for that game – Steven Finn, who was put on stand-by for The Oval after Mark Wood was ruled out through a bruised heel, officially takes the place of Wood – it could well be that means Liam Dawson, the left-arm spinner, returns on a Manchester surface that may provide a little more assistance for spin bowlers.
“I’m still of the view we don’t need more than seven batters,” Bayliss told Sky Sports after the game at The Oval. “We’ve got three guys like Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali who give us a lot of options, so on this occasion, we looked at the conditions, saw it was a bit green here and played the extra batsman. There wasn’t a great deal of spin, but that could be different somewhere else.”
Who would make way for Dawson remains to be seen. Keaton Jennings made 48 in the second innings, but was dropped early and beaten often in an unconvincing display, while Malan, on debut, made only 11 runs in the match. While it is more likely Malan would be the one to make way, it is not impossible that Westley could be promoted to open with his Essex team-mate Alastair Cook in place of Jennings. Jennings, who also dropped centurion Dean Elgar when he had 9, is averaging 15.33 in the series and 25.90 after his five Tests.
Bayliss admitted that Jennings’ position was not secure. Asked who would partner Cook in the Ashes, he told the BBC: “It could be two or three guys. When we go to Australia, we’ll probably take more than a couple of openers, so it could be a number of those guys get a look-in.”
Bayliss also celebrated the performance of debutants Westley and Toby Roland-Jones. Roland-Jones finished with 8 for 129 – the best figures on debut by an England bowler since James Kirtley in 2003 – while Westley made 84 runs in the game including a second-innings half-century.
“They were outstanding,” he told Sky Sports. “We’ve tried some guys in the past who have done well early on, but hopefully we’ll be talking like this about them after they have played 10 to 15 Tests.
“Westley has fitted into the squad very easily and looks comfortable around the group. And Toby looks as if one of his strengths is accuracy. We haven’t got the out-and-out pace that Australia have, so you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the right areas and Toby’s done that.”
Captain Joe Root praised his side’s first innings batting for setting up the victory. England posted 353 in their first innings, a total which Faf du Plessis reasoned was anything up to 100 better than par, in conditions assisting seam bowlers. Root reserved particular praise for Alastair Cook, who made 88 in the first innings, and Ben Stokes, who made 112.
“There’s no point in making excuses,” Root said. “The way we performed at Trent Bridge wasn’t good enough. But we responded very well. To come out of a difficult week, bat on a wicket which probably was slightly bowler-friendly and play how we did was fantastic. Alastair Cook set the example and showed us how it was done at the top of the order. His innings was crucial.
“At no point did any of us get ourselves out. We made them get us out and we still scored at three-and-a-half an over which shows we’re always going to be able to move the board forward. We batted at a very good tempo and have set the benchmark for the way to approach things in the future.
“Stokes has always been a great player but over the last year he’s really matured and found ways to be more consistent.
“He has a great cricket brain, which he doesn’t always get a lot of credit for. He’s a person you know you can turn to under pressure to wrestle a game back in your favour and this week is a fine example of what he’s capable of.”