England have pressing problems to address as they emerge from their 2-0 Test series defeat against Pakistan.
There is precious little time before the next Test assignment away to world No 1 side South Africa to work on a series of vexed topics, and the imminent limited-overs series against Pakistan provides an even more immediate focus.
Coach Trevor Bayliss must greet his new 50-over arrivals in Abu Dhabi, but cannot afford to set aside Test cricket, with another squad to be announced in two weeks.
Mark Wood’s departure, for specialist advice on his chronic ankle pain, means there is an injury doubt for the Christmas and new year trip to South Africa about three seamers who began the tour to the United Arab Emirates.
Steven Finn left before the first Test with a bone stress problem in his foot and although all-rounder Ben Stokes appeared to bat with more freedom in the second innings of the final match, the shoulder injury he suffered in Sharjah is still a concern.
The identification of an effective spin pairing for next winter’s sub-continental tours is another conundrum for Bayliss and his fellow selectors while the search for a productive opening partner for Alastair Cook and the right choice as wicketkeeper-batsman will be revisited in that next Test squad.
Bayliss hinted, after England’s 127-run defeat on Thursday, that Alex Hales will have his opportunity to open in South Africa.
He has been England’s reserve for the past five weeks during which the experiment to put Moeen Ali at the top of the order has backfired.
“It certainly wasn’t as successful as we’d have liked, or I’m sure Moeen would have liked,” said Bayliss.
“Hales is the other opener in the squad.
“I think he’d be desperately unlucky not to go to South Africa.
“We’ve got a chat in about a week’s time, so I’m sure that will be high on the agenda.”
As for the failure of England’s spinners to measure up against their opposite numbers, Bayliss sees no one else knocking on the door from domestic cricket to try their hand instead. “I think we’ve got the three best spinners here at the moment. I’m sure they’re a little disappointed as well, especially this Test match.
“I thought we probably bowled a few too many full-tosses, long-hops and half-volleys in this match – which is unusual.”
Only briefly, in the second innings of the first Test, did Pakistan’s batsmen have any significant difficulty against England’s spinners.
“For three inexperienced bowlers, it’s not easy bowling against some of the best players of spin in the world,” added Bayliss.
“That does put extra pressure on you ... something they’re going to have to become accustomed to.
“They’re going to have to work it out, and get better in those circumstances.”
Bayliss, an Ashes-winner against his native country in his first attempt as England coach last summer, has encountered a reality check in the desert.
He insists, however, it is not all doom and gloom.
“From a batting point of view, obviously the captain’s batting was superb – and so was (Joe) Root’s.
“But I think the younger, inexperienced batters all – probably bar Moeen, at the top of the order – spent some quality time in the middle, proving they can bat in these conditions for an amount of time. If you can do it once, you can do it again – and you can do it for longer.
“If they’ve got to learn something from this tour, it’s about working out what they did well in those innings and doing it for longer the next time.”
Pakistan have confirmed a one-day international return for their veteran all-time top Test runscorer Younus Khan in the four-match series which begins next week against England.
Pakistan ODI squad (v England):
Azhar Ali (Captain), A Shehzad, M Hafeez, Y Khan, S Malik, B Azam, M Rizwan (wkt), S Ahmed (wkt), Anwar Ali, A Yamin, Y Shah, Z Gohar, W Riaz, M Irfan, R Ali, B Asif.