Joe Root could return to the No 3 spot for the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston to shore up England’s struggling top order. On a day in which Australia’s David Warner was struck by Michael Neser in the nets – a bruised thigh that is unlikely to affect the opener’s chances of playing on Thursday – it emerged that England are considering a late change to their batting line-up.
It is understood Root spoke about moving up one place from his preferred No 4 spot with the team management during last week’s victory over Ireland – a match that saw England bowled out for 85 in the first innings and the tail-ender Jack Leach top-score in the second with 92 after coming in as a nightwatchman opener.
Trevor Bayliss will doubtless have been receptive to Root’s offer, having long maintained it should be the position for the team’s leading batsman to impose himself on the opposition bowlers.
Root averages 48 from 60 innings at No 4 – compared with 40 from 40 innings at first drop – and returned there at the end of the India series last summer. He believes it allows him additional time to clear his mind for batting after captaining in the field. England’s perennial top-three headache has been made harder by Alastair Cook’s international retirement, with seven frontline batsmen being deployed in those positions in the seven Tests since. Root now appears to accept his prowess is once again required higher up.
The 28-year-old’s career-best score of 254 against Pakistan in 2016 came at No 3 but batting so high in England has proved trickier since, with the Duke ball in 2017 and 2018 doing plenty for the opening bowlers owing to its pronounced seam. England, keen to assist their bowlers, ordered a repeat batch for this summer’s Tests too.
Joe Denly is the likeliest to move down to No 4, meaning Jason Roy will continue to open alongside Rory Burns. While the reshuffle shows England’s batting uncertainty, their bowling attack should at least be bolstered by the return of Jimmy Anderson.
The country’s record Test wicket-taker was one of three England players at voluntary nets on Monday, along with Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad, and bowled six overs seemingly unaffected by the calf problem that has led him to miss four weeks of cricket.
It leaves the uncapped Jofra Archer as the final fitness query. The fast bowler is to be assessed at Edgbaston on Tuesday following the side strain he battled through during England’s victorious World Cup campaign.
Archer played a T20 Blast match for Sussex last Friday but his ability to get through 20 overs in a day of Test cricket so soon will dictate whether he is handed a Test debut at Edgbaston or held back until the second Test at Lord’s which starts on 14 August.
In contrast to the top order there is at least healthy competition for seam bowling places. Chris Woakes, though in the middle of a heavy summer workload, returned a career-best six for 17 against Ireland and knows Edgbaston better than anyone.
Broad also took seven wickets across two innings in that match and Olly Stone’s pace impressed on debut, while Sam Curran has the ability to swing the ball from a left-arm angle and offer additional batting depth down the order.
A further change brings Ben Stokes back as the vice-captain – the position he held in 2017 before the infamous Bristol incident at the end of the summer saw him removed from the role and stood down from that winter’s Ashes series.
Speaking on a visit to his former club, Cockermouth CC in Cumbria, the 28-year-old said: “I love having that responsibility and it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing. I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool. I am very good friends with Joe and will do as much as I can to help him not just as a captain but as a player as well.
“I think it would have been just as exciting anyway. Playing in an Ashes series is always special and they don’t come around that often. But being named vice-captain again was very good words to hear when I got the call.”
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