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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Problems to ponder for England despite leading India 2-0 in Test series

The top order remains an area of concern, but strength of bowling attack and performances of Woakes and Curran, along with return of Stokes, will give captain Root cause for optimism of clinching the series at Trent Bridge

Joe Root was once again reliant on his bowlers, spearheaded by James Anderson, left, to take England to victory against India at Lord's. Reuters
Joe Root was once again reliant on his bowlers, spearheaded by James Anderson, left, to take England to victory against India at Lord's. Reuters

It has been a pretty good week for the England cricket team.

Two-nil up in the five-match series against India, the No 1 side in the world in the Test rankings, after thrashing them by an innings and 159 runs in the second Test at Lord's on Sunday.

Then on Tuesday came the news that Ben Stokes, the all-rounder who played a vital role in the first Test victory at Edgbaston, has rejoined the squad after being found not guilty by a jury in Bristol of a charge of affray.

Victory against a demoralised India in the third Test at Trent Bridge, which starts on Saturday, will clinch the series with two games to spare.

It all looks rosy for England, but scratch below the surface and there are problems for captain Joe Root to address.

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Read more:

Ben Stokes called up to England's third Test squad after being found not guilty of affray

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: India have too few players on the same page as Virat Kohli

Joe Root calls James Anderson a 'special commodity' after Lord's Test win over India

Bit-part role: There is no bowling, no batting, no catch for Adil Rashid in England's rout of India

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: India batsmen must replicate Kohli mindset for Test success in England

Graham Caygill: England need to have more settled side to become force in Test cricket again

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There are still big issues with the batting and while the bowling unit shone against India it has helped that conditions have been almost perfect for their attack to thrive in.

England dominating in home conditions is hardly new; you have to go back to 2001 for the last time they lost a five-match series on home turf.

This has made up for a frankly awful run of form overseas, having failed to win any of their past 13 Tests away from home, with their last success a narrow 22-run win over Bangladesh in Chittagong in October 2016.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will have one eye on next summer and trying to regain the Ashes against Australia.

So, how just how are England really doing 12 months out from facing Australia?

Here is a look at the areas of the side and how they rate.

Keaton Jennings walks off after being dismissed for only 11 runs in the second Test against India at Lord's. Reuters
Keaton Jennings walks off after being dismissed for only 11 runs in the second Test against India at Lord's. Reuters

Openers

Alastair Cook's struggles with the bat show no signs of abating. He averages just 17.1 this year, which highlights part of the reason England's top order has struggled.

England's record run-scorer has been an integral part of the team for the past 12 years, but despite failing all too regularly with the bat, his place in the squad remains secure.

That is largely because the ECB have been unable to replace Andrew Strauss, who retired six years ago this month, so they clearly don't fancy the challenge of finding two openers when one has proven hard enough already.

Keaton Jennings has been given another go alongside Cook, but scores of 29, 42, 8 and 11 against India have hardly set the world alight.

He may well tour Sri Lanka in the winter but at this stage there is nothing about his Test return that screams he will still be there next summer when Australia arrive in town.

Jos Buttler, right, will need to contribute more with the bat for England, especially following the recall of Ben Stokes to the squad. Reuters
Jos Buttler, right, will need to contribute more with the bat for England, especially following the recall of Ben Stokes to the squad. Reuters

Middle order

Root is nailed in at No 3 and before he needlessly got himself run out at Edgbaston looked to be back in good nick as he made 80.

One of the reasons the England batting has failed to post big scores of late is because Root has had an average past 12 months, by his standards, with no hundreds but 11 half centuries.

It would be more worrying if Root was really struggling, but the frustration is he is in reasonable form but has failed to convert good scores into big ones.

Ollie Pope will hold the No 4 slot for at the rest of the summer. The Surrey man was given his chance after Dawid Malan became the latest batsman alongside Gary Ballance and James Vince to be cast aside after failing to convince.

Pope looked solid in his one innings so far at Lord's, scoring 28, but he will need bigger scores in the remaining three Tests.

Jos Buttler has been included in the squad as a batsman rather than a wicketkeeper. But after returning with scores of 67 and 80 not out earlier in the summer against Pakistan he has struggled against India with a combined 25 runs in three innings.

He needs to contribute much more to stay in the Test squad, especially following the recall of Stokes.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes celebrates dismissing India captain Virat Kohli in the first Test at Edgbaston. Getty Images
England all-rounder Ben Stokes celebrates dismissing India captain Virat Kohli in the first Test at Edgbaston. Getty Images

All-rounders

An area where things do look a lot more encouraging for England. Wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow has had a good series thus far with the bat; his 70 at Edgbaston followed by 93 at Lord's that helped put the home side in a position to go and win the match.

One of England's more consistent performers, Bairstow's promotion to No 5 highlighted the fact he can make big scores further up the order.

Chris Woakes' unbeaten 137 at Lord's was his maiden Test hundred while he also contributed four wickets with the ball. The only question is whether he can be as effective overseas, with 51 of his 68 wickets so far coming in England.

Stokes proved his value at Edgbaston with six wickets, including the crucial one of India captain Virat Kohli in the second innings.

The challenge for the Durham player over the next 12 months is to put his legal troubles behind him and refdiscover his form with the bat, having only passed 50 once this year.

Sam Curran has been the big bonus for England so far against India. He has batted with impressive intensity, and his counter-attacking 63 at Edgbaston in the second innings proved crucial to giving himself and his fellow bowlers something to defend.

He swings the ball well and has troubled India. The interesting thing will be how he copes in conditions when the ball does not swing and are more advantageous to the batsman.

England spinner Adil Rashid has bowled just 12 overs, for the return of three wickets, against India in the two Test matches so far. Reuters
England spinner Adil Rashid has bowled just 12 overs, for the return of three wickets, against India in the two Test matches so far. Reuters

Bowlers

The first two Tests have told us nothing really new about England. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are still huge weapons that make their team formidable in home conditions.

Anderson has 13 wickets in the series so far and Broad has seven. Anderson will be 37 next summer and Broad 33, but with the ECB having carefully looked after both men's schedules in the past, both can expect to face Australia next year.

With Woakes, Stokes and Curran all impressing, a combination of them can fill the No 3 and No 4 bowling slots.

The challenge for England remains the spin situation. Adil Rashid's call-up was controversial, given his lack of county cricket action, and we are none the wiser as to whether he is the man for the role, having bowled just 12 overs, for the return of three wickets, against India.

He will hope he will get more bowling time in the remaining three Tests, though it would be a surprise if he did not go to Sri Lanka in the winter, where conditions will favour spin.

Verdict

So, even though England are 2-0 up, things have not changed much: the batting remains underwhelming and it is the bowlers who are largely responsible for the victories.

The rise of the all-rounders, though, is the big bonus, and having three players in Stokes, Woakes and Curran who can influence the game with both bat and ball will be the central area that Root can build a side around ahead of next year's Ashes.