With Joe Root now back at No 4, the time looks right for England to take a chance on Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon to fill the gaping hole in No 3 slot
- In his first big call as captain, Ben Stokes moved Joe Root back to No 4
- That has left a gasping hole in the No 3 slot that was filled by the ex captain
- It’d make sense to bring in Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon, who is a genuine No 3
The first big call of Ben Stokes’ captaincy has shone the spotlight on what is again likely to be the biggest problem position in England’s ever fragile top order.
Stokes’ decision to move Joe Root back to No 4 leaves a gaping hole in the No 3 slot the former captain had filled in the Caribbean.
That means the captain, new managing director Rob Key and whoever becomes the Test coach later this week — almost certainly Gary Kirsten — face a tricky search for the best candidate ahead of the first Test of the new era against New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2.
In his first big call as the new captain, Ben Stokes (pictured) has moved Joe Root back to No 4
It is a big call and the direction England go in will say much about the new regime’s approach to lifting the Test side from the near rock bottom of just one win in the last 17 games.
Dawid Malan was perhaps unlucky to miss out on the West Indies tour and is as well qualified as anyone for the No 3 role. But if England go back to a player approaching his 35th birthday it will not back up their encouraging positive early declarations of intent.
The more imaginative choice would be to hand a debut to Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon, who already has a Championship double- hundred under his belt this season and is a genuine No 3 compared to other square pegs for this particular round hole.
England are also looking for a No 5 now Stokes has decided he can best bring his all-round game to the fore from one place lower in the order, even though, as he showed with that remarkable assault on Worcestershire, No 6 is almost a waste of his immense batting talent.
Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon is a genuine No 3 and it would make sense to hand him a debut
Such are the number of options for the role, both already experienced with England and also emerging in the domestic game, that Key talked in Sportsmail to Nasser Hussain last week of a ‘middle order log jam’. Dan Lawrence is the favourite to bat at five at Lord’s, as long as he recovers as expected from his hamstring injury in time, after showing the sort of selfless qualities in the Caribbean that Stokes will demand from all his players.
There is no shortage of competition, not least in the form of Yorkshire’s Harry Brook, whose extraordinary start to the County Championship season continued when he made his fourth century of the campaign against Essex at Chelmsford.
England may also feel the time is now right to bring back the most gifted of their younger crop of red-ball batters, Ollie Pope.
Jonny Bairstow could be the first big name to miss out on the red-ball reset as there seems little appetite to bring him back early from the Indian Premier League that will continue until just before the beginning of the international season.
Jonny Bairstow could be the first big name to miss out as there is little appetite to bring him back from the IPL
Bairstow made a century in the first Test against West Indies in Antigua in March but his latest return to red-ball cricket looks likely to again be short-lived unless Ben Foakes’ position comes under scrutiny following an underwhelming tour of the Caribbean.
The top three is more problematic. Zak Crawley and Alex Lees look certain to remain as openers but both will begin the international summer with much to prove.
England — and not least Key — remain convinced that Crawley will go on to an outstanding career but he needs to start repaying that faith more consistently, while Lees did enough in the Caribbean to carry on now without totally convincing he has what it takes to thrive at the top.
If either stumble, then watch out for Sussex captain Tom Haines, who has been earmarked by Key as the young opener to watch in the domestic game.