England head coach Trevor Bayliss admits there are still “three or four” places up for grabs in the first Test against Sri Lanka and is preparing to thrash the situation out with his fellow selectors.
Rarely in recent memory have so many positions in the XI been open to debate in the first match of a series, with the entire balance of the line-up in Galle as yet unsettled.
The identity of England’s wicketkeeper, number three batsman and James Anderson’s new-ball partner are all likely to feature in discussions between Bayliss, captain Joe Root and national selector Ed Smith before decision time on Tuesday morning.
As if to illustrate the range of options in play for the panel, his place in the side could theoretically be taken by a specialist keeper (Ben Foakes), a batsman (Ollie Pope), an all-rounder (Joe Denly) or any one of four seamers.
“It’s a hard selection from the point of view that we’re not discussing one position, we’re discussing three or four positions,” said Bayliss.
“Jonny is not playing, so our next decision is a little bit of a combination. What’s the batting order and does that change depending on which people we pick?
“Then it’s the bowling combination. Do we go with a third spinner or an extra batter, for example. There’s probably about five different combinations we could go with.”
Smith helped pick the 17-strong squad but is on hand in an unofficial, advisory capacity here, with the final verdict lying with the captain and coach.
“On tour it would be Joe and myself (who decide). Obviously Ed’s here, so we’ll run a few things by him,” said Bayliss.
“It’s not a sort of voting system we have. We’re all man enough to have a discussion and talk over the pros and cons of each decision and then come to an agreement.
“As time goes by we’re getting a little clearer. We’re still not there yet.”
Sunday’s training session appeared to offer some hints, including the virtual rubber stamping of the opening partnership between Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns.
The pair batted together in the nets and then completed close-catching drills in the middle, indicating they are likely to be under the helmet for long periods during the series proper.
In the lane next to them Root batted with Moeen Ali rather than Denly, a possible nod that Moeen will be going in at first drop and the latter missing out.
The Worcestershire all-rounder finished the domestic season in that role but it was assumed to be temporary.
“He’s certainly still in the calculations there,” Bayliss said. “Mo played in the last Test-and-a-half at home at number three. What’s obviously a concern if we do want him to bat at three is how he handles maybe having bowled 40-plus overs in an innings. That’s a discussion point, definitely.”
As for the wicketkeeping position, putting the gloves on Jos Buttler would allow an extra bowling option to be picked while Foakes is indisputably the more accomplished performer up to the stumps.
“We know Jos is a good keeper but sometimes here, on these different wickets, it doesn’t come through quite so well and it shows up a little bit of footwork,” said the Australian.
“We know Jos is definitely going to be in the team whether he’s keeping or not. Foakes is very much in the picture, that’s for sure.”