England look for their Ashes questions to be answered at Lord’s

Joe MacDougall Roar Rookie

By , Joe MacDougall is a Roar Rookie

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    This Thursday at Lord’s, England remarkably have a deciding Test match against the West Indies.

    Nothing other than a win will do for the hosts, who have named an unchanged 13-man squad for the final Test of the summer.

    Losing a series at home to the team ranked eighth in the ICC World Rankings would not be ideal preparation for an Ashes series Down Under – the very fact that it’s gone to a decider has raised eyebrows around the world.

    Increased scrutiny is a byproduct of an Ashes build-up, and with the Wisden Trophy in the balance, certain England players will be feeling the heat with a spot in the side to face Australia in Brisbane on November 23 at stake.

    As well as needing a win at Lord’s, England will be desperate to alleviate some of the growing concerns they have about a number of spots in their line-up. In doing so, they will hope they can get on with the job of deciding the make-up of their wider touring squad to Australia, rather than having to continually focus on the starting XI for each Test.

    Providing the Lord’s pitch does not deliver the turn we saw during the South Africa Test in July – in which England’s spinners Moeen Ali and Liam Dawson took 14 wickets in the match (the most in a home Test match since 1972) – England are likely to field the same starting XI as the Headingley Test.

    England's cricketer Moeen Ali

    (AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD)

    The temptation to give Mason Crane his debut has now evaporated given the context of this game becoming a series decider, and Chris Woakes will probably hold off competition from the unlucky Toby Roland-Jones in the hope he will be sharper than his lacklustre display last week after his return from injury.

    Despite the farcical search for a partner to Alastair Cook at the top of the order looking to have finally ended after a competent 52 from Mark Stoneman in the second innings at Headingley, what if he bags a pair at Lord’s?

    My gut feeling is that because of the style with which he faced a rejuvenated West Indies seam attack, he’s done enough to start at the Gabba no matter what, but it would be a significant step backwards should he fail twice at Lord’s.

    The fact that the backup openers Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hammed have enjoyed horror summers means that for now at least, Stoneman starts.

    Tom Westley must be the man most relieved to be involved in the Lord’s Test. Averaging 20 in his first seven Test innings might not be the worst start to an international career, but the manner of his wickets at Headingley, not to mention the muddled thinking in running between the wickets, made him look worryingly out of his depth.

    England have, to their credit, always tried to give a fair crack of the whip to their new recruits in recent years, and four Test matches may have been judged an insufficient sample size by the selectors. But Westley is not just approaching the last chance saloon – he has taken up residence since the Headingley defeat, and is currently racking up a bar tab of epic proportions.

    If he fails to pass 50 in the third Test he won’t be invited to Australia.

    Dropping Westley would potentially force Joe Root’s hand in placing himself at number three, so the absence of a capable alternative could work in the Essex man’s favour.

    England's Joe Root during day four of the the second Investec Test match at Headingley, Leeds.

    (Nigel French/PA Wire)

    However, with increased rumblings from the cricket press for the selectors to go back to the internationally-experienced Alex Hales, the in-form Liam Livingstone, or – heaven forbid – their beloved Gary Ballance, Westley must be well aware of the need for a big performance on Thursday.

    One of the more surprising performances in Leeds was Dawid Malan’s 61 off 186 balls in just under five hours in the second innings while the lower order around him began to accelerate.

    Malan wasn’t brought in to play this type of innings; it was expected he could add impetus to an already powerful lower middle order. However, if he is able to replicate his Headingley knock to become a grafter who can hold things together lower down, this could be a hugely valuable role for him to play.

    Moving forward, it’s possible he might have just carved out a very useful role for himself in the side – a real bonus for England.

    Stoneman, Westley, Malan. Three major question marks in the England batting line-up, two of which seem to be (almost) answered. If Westley can somehow find form at Lord’s and nail down his number three spot, England’s selectors will be able to spend the majority of their Ashes squad selection meeting discussing the two batting back-up slots, rather than who is going to come in at first drop.

    If all three have shockers on Thursday, England are in danger of travelling Down Under with less certainty over their line-up than four years ago. And we all know how that panned out.

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