The injury to Jonny Bairstow may prevent him from keeping wicket in Southampton but he could play as a batsman. That would mean a likely move up to No. 4 and could be a harbinger of a future set-up for England’s top order alongside a shift of the gloves to Jos Buttler. Trevor Bayliss has admitted it could be a tricky decision and it might need some careful management, but England need to do everything they can to get the most out of an era of underwhelming top-order resources. The reshuffle would also allow Ollie Pope, if he is retained, to drop down a spot to No. 5 which would be a fairer position for a young batsman to try and settle into. There are other debates to have about the order as well, not least Joe Root’s position at No. 3, but England are unlikely to want a complete game of musical chairs before a crucial Test.
Should Vince play anyway?
When England named their squad, it was indicated that James Vince’s recall was purely as cover for Bairstow. However, Vince has been considered good enough to be brought back so should he be considered for a batting spot regardless? Pope is hugely talented but there is a feeling he may have been promoted too soon – although making a judgement on two Tests is, in itself, harsh – so one option would be for Vince to come in for Pope. A left-field option could be to have him open alongside Alastair Cook in place of Keaton Jennings. It would break up an all-left-hand opening combination which India’s bowlers have exploited. But while Vince opens in white-ball cricket, it is a very different ask to do so in a Test.
Moeen Ali has had a prolific few weeks with bat and ball. England aren’t short on allrounders, but Moeen has surely done enough to make the selectors think of finding a spot for him. Depending on what his main role is viewed as, it could just be a straight swap for Adil Rashid, although Rashid has done little wrong in this series. Moeen could also return as a batting-first option in place of Pope – and be part of a twin-spin attack – or if there are doubts over Ben Stokes’ bowling fitness as an allrounder (Bayliss has previously indicated he would consider Stokes as a batsman).
Can Curran get back in?
Sam Curran was unfortunate to lose his place for Trent Bridge and, though Stokes impressed with the bat on the fourth day, there’s a strong argument to say England got the selection wrong. But now that Curran is out, it’s tricky to see how he slots back in. The talk of rotating pace bowlers in this series has quietened (that could come in the winter) particularly with India’s fightback, so Curran may need an injury to create a gap. However, if Pope was replaced by Moeen and England only wanted one spinner, then Curran could replace Rashid. This may be an option if there is uncertainty about Stokes’ workload but otherwise five seamers would seem like overkill.
Ageas a good omen for England?
Four years ago, England came to the Ageas Bowl under huge pressure. On that occasion they were 1-0 down after a defeat at Lord’s and Cook was on the brink of quitting. This time England, for all the criticism of the past week, are still leading 2-1 but there are some similarities. Cook, for one, is in desperate need of a score. Four years ago he was dropped at slip on 15 and went onto a battling 95. This time there is no captaincy on the line for Cook, but it has reached the stage where it feels as though he needs a good score in the final two Tests to prolong his magnificent career. Another point to note from the 2014 Test is that Moeen was the second-innings match-winner with 6 for 67.