Head coach Trevor Bayliss admits England’s top three is up in the air heading into an Ashes summer and is no closer to finding a first-choice Test XI than he was four years ago.
A 232-run win over the West Indies in St Lucia represented the final away Test of Bayliss’s reign, which will come to an end after this year’s clash with Australia.
His first overseas assignment in the role, a fine 2-1 success in South Africa in 2015-16, ended with question marks over batsmen Alex Hales, Nick Compton and James Taylor and Bayliss calling for challengers to emerge from the county game.
Six Test tours later, there is a sense of deja vu with Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly the men under the microscope and Bayliss once again seeking contenders.
“We’re still looking for those places. Supporters of English cricket want to have 11 exceptional cricketers but it’s taking time,” Bayliss said.
“The guys trying to nail those places down are working their backsides off to do well in international cricket but it’s taken a bit longer than they would like and longer than we would like as well.
“The top three positions, the struggles they’ve had, is well documented. They’ve all shown what they can do but it’s about doing it more regularly.”
National selector Ed Smith and Taylor, now on the panel following his premature retirement with heart problems, will have their own views but Bayliss appears willing to consider a variety of options when England resume their red-ball exploits following the World Cup.
That includes the unlikely option of Burns, Jennings and Denly being retained as a trio, a gamble given they average just 25, 25.19 and 28 respectively.
“Those three guys are the incumbents in those positions, I suppose,” he said.
While there is a lack of certainty at the top of the card, Bayliss indicated that Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali were now inked in to their positions between four and eight.
That makes Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, dropped in St Lucia just two games after being named man-of-the-series in Sri Lanka, the odd man out.
Asked if the three-game experiment with Bairstow at number three was now over, Bayliss offered a one-word answer: “Yes”.
As to whether that meant bad news for Foakes, he added: “Yes, unfortunately.”