England are ready to hand Jason Roy another opportunity to prove himself as an Ashes opener but even head coach Trevor Bayliss believes he is better suited to the middle order.
Roy averages just nine in five knocks at the head of the innings, having thus far failed to translate his limited-overs brilliance to the five-day format, but is likely to take his role in an unchanged top four in Thursday’s third Specsavers Test at Headingley.
England resisted the temptation to bring in fresh faces by keeping the same 12-man squad after last week’s draw at Lord’s, leaving question marks over the order rather than the personnel.
For now the expectation is for continuity, with Roy partnering Surrey team-mate Rory Burns, captain Joe Root continuing at three despite two failures at Lord’s and Joe Denly – who began his Test career this winter as opener – up next.
But Bayliss was candid in his assessment of the situation, admitting it may be a temporary arrangement.
“We think we’ve got the best seven batters available to us at the moment in England… whether we can change it round and make that (order) any better, I’m not sure, but we’ll certainly have a discussion about it,” he said.
“There’s one or two batting spots in the wrong positions but we’re trying to do the right thing by the team.
“Personally, I think Roy is a middle-order player but we’ve had a set middle order – yes, some of the combos have changed – but the one spot available was at the top.
“Yes, it hasn’t worked yet but he can easily come out and blast a quick hundred. Long-term he’s more middle-order, he’d feel more comfortable there, and he’s doing a job for the team.
“You’d have to ask him exactly how he’s feeling but it’s obviously not quite the same as opening the batting in a white-ball game.”
Even with that in mind, two more failures at Headingley would surely be the end of the experiment and the left-hander could be asked to swap with Denly if that occurs.
Root is sure to stay at first drop for the time being, having requested a promotion he previously shied away from at the start of the series.
The engine room of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow could conceivably come out in any order at five, six and seven – depending on the former’s workload with the ball and the latter’s exertions at wicketkeeper, but Bayliss realises that fluidity may not be a permanent solution
“I’d like to see the guys stick to a position and everyone becomes comfortable but it is one of the difficulties,” he said.
“The all-rounders having to back up after bowling or keeping is one of the challenges and exactly what the answer is…we’re trying to work it out.
“There might come a time when we have to put a foot down and say, ‘No, this is what’s happening. Like it or lump it’.”
While the batting continues to provide more questions than answers, Jofra Archer’s incredible debut performance has undoubtedly taken the pace bowling to the next level.
Bayliss, from New South Wales, knows all about the Australian love affair with quick bowlers and is fascinated to see their reaction to Archer’s rapid spells.
“The Aussies have not been backward in coming forward in that respect in years gone by and it will be good to see the shoe on the other foot,” he said.
“It will add a different dynamic to how they play.
“From an English point of view, it is good that it is experiencing what the English batters did facing (Brett) Lee, (Mitchell) Johnson, (Dennis) Lillee and (Jeff) Thomson. It is not impossible to play that but it gets your attention.”
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Australia’s head coach Justin Langer has told his bowlers not to let their egos draw them into a battle of the bouncers at Headingley, after Steve Smith was ruled out of the third Ashes Test with concussion.
Smith has been undergoing constant medical assessments since showing delayed symptoms the day after being hit in the neck by a 92mph Jofra Archer delivery at Lord’s, and has been told his recovery plan will not allow him to be involved when the contest resumes on Thursday.
Archer’s pace and hostility on debut lit a fuse under the series, which the tourists lead 1-0, as the 24-year-old also struck Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet and routinely bowled well above 90mph.
Australia have been no shrinking violets in terms of using speed as a weapon in the past and, with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc all well capable of bowling quickly they could easily attempt to fight fire with fire.
Langer, though, wants a dispassionate display.
“We know what our plans are to beat England. What we’re not going to do is get caught up an an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” he said.
“We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit. We keep talking about it … you’ve got to play on skill, not emotion, and it’s hard for young players, even senior players.
“You can get caught up in the atmosphere, you can get caught up in the contest. But it’s not an ego game. We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many bruises we can give, that’s not winning Test matches, trust me, you can’t get out with a bruise on your arm.
“I’m sure the bouncer will still be part of every bowler’s armoury, if it helps us get batsmen out then we’ll use it, otherwise we’ll keep sticking to the plan.”
Smith’s absence leaves a yawning hole in the Australian order, with the former captain scoring 144, 142 and 92 in the last three innings.
He had been keen to play despite concerns over his health, and turned up to training in a watching brief, but Langer revealed assessment of his condition meant that was never a realistic option.
“At the end of the day it was really a no brainer,” he said, turning to a somewhat awkward phrase given the circumstances.
“It was pretty simple when we followed the protocols, he was probably a couple of days off being fit to be selected. He is not going to have time enough to tick off everything he needs to do to be ready to play.
“It’s not like England losing James Anderson, he’s arguably their best bowler, and we are going to arguably lose our best batter for this Test match.
“It’s always a blow, no doubt about that. If you take your best players out it always has an impact so we have got to make sure that all the other guys, our senior players and our younger players, all step up and fill what are almost unfillable shoes as he is almost the best player in the world.”
Smith is now expected to return in a tour match against Derbyshire slotted between the third and fourth Tests.
“That would be great for him rather than just doing it in the nets or having throwdowns…it could work out really well,” said Langer.
“We know what he’s like, so look out Derbyshire bowlers!”
Brain injury association Headway welcomed Smith’s exclusion from the third Test and called for neck guards to become mandatory on cricket helmets.
Chief executive Peter McCabe said in a statement: “We welcome the news that Steve Smith will take no part in the next Ashes Test and wish him well.
“However, this incident should be a wake-up call for the game. Cricket has to seize the initiative and make permanent changes which will safeguard players from the possible dangers of concussion.
“The time has come for the International Cricket Council to introduce a more robust protocol which sets a specific period that players are required to rest following a concussion. Likewise, we feel that neck/stem guards should be mandatory.
“Finally, the decision if a player should continue following a suspected concussion should be made by an independent doctor away from the intense competitive pressures on the team.”
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Former England batsmen Jonathan Trott and Mark Ramprakash are in the running for the role of India’s batting coach and have interviewed for the job before BCCI’s selection panel.
According to a report by ESPNcricinfo, the two Englishmen are being considered for the batting coach position along with former Sri Lanka batsman Thilan Samaraweera, Amol Muzumdar, Pravin Amre, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Vikram Rathour.
The BCCI recently retained Ravi Shastri as the head coach of India on a new two-year contract and the process to now complete his support staff is in full swing with candidates being interviewed by the selection panel from Monday to Thursday.
India’s previous supporting coaching staff comprising of Sanjay Bangar (assistant coach), Bharat Arun (bowling coach) and R Sridhar (fielding coach) have all been automatically entered into the recruitment process and are reportedly the preferred candidates for head coach Shastri.
The trio is currently with Shastri on India’s ongoing tour of the West Indies and were handed 45-day extensions to their contracts by the BCCI for the same after their original contracts expired with the completion of the 2019 World Cup.
Former South African ace Jonty Rhodes is said to be in the running for the fielding coach position while the likes of Venkatesh Prasad and Sunil Joshi have applied for the role of the bowling coach.
Like Shastri, the new supporting staff are likely to be handed two-year contracts as well which would run until the completion of the 2021 T20 World Cup. The selection panel will send its final recommendations for the three roles to the BCCI after completing the interview process this week before the board takes a final call on the appointments.