Trevor Bayliss admits England’s Test side is suffering from lack of competition for places, a dearth of top-order specialists and a “muddled” mindset.
The head coach did not sugar the pill as he picked over back-to-back defeats against the West Indies, by crushing margins of 381 runs in Barbados and 10 wickets in Antigua, diagnosing some fundamental issues with the available batting options.
England have been rolled over far too easily in the Caribbean with scores of 77, 246, 187 and 132 showing up flaws in temperament and technique.
Speaking in the dressing room after the three-day loss at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Bayliss invited the team to go away and offer their own answers ahead of the third Test in St Lucia which starts on Saturday, but it was clear he does not anticipate any easy fix.
In particular, England’s batting has the tendency to look lop-sided with Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and Ben Foakes all most suitable as stroke-makers in the lower middle order.
Meanwhile the top three suffers from a chronic lack of options, with a revolving-door policy among openers in recent years and Bairstow the latest square peg wedged into the round hole at first wicket down.
“One of the difficult things is we’ve got six guys that are probably suited to batting six or seven and we’re trying to fit them into the team,” said Bayliss.
“Without a lot of pressure coming up from behind then those guys are our best players, so we’ve got to try and fit them into the team. It would be great if somebody was pushing them from behind and giving them a little extra motivation to score runs and stay in the team. We have a lot of guys averaging in the low 30s. In years gone by, that wouldn’t have been good enough to stay in the team.
“We’d like to see plenty of guys in county cricket putting pressure on those blokes. But the guys we have tried at the top of the order over the last few years have been the best players in county cricket.
“There doesn’t seem to be the ready-made international player who’s made plenty of runs and has the game that can succeed at international level.”
Events of the past fortnight have punctured the optimism created in Sri Lanka before Christmas, where a 3-0 whitewash took the Test side’s record to eight wins out of nine.
The results of the one-day side have been more consistent over Bayliss’ four-year reign, leading to a well-deserved world number one ranking in the 50-over format. The Australian has overseen a wildly successful change in approach against the white ball, focusing on relentless aggression, but he now concedes the Test team are less clear about how to apply his principles.
“It could have been misinterpreted on the inside,” he added.
“We’ve got the one-day team that goes out and plays that way, but sometimes I feel the message between one-day cricket and Test cricket gets muddled a little. Test team versus one-day team, there’s a bit of a different mindset and different rates of success.”
Explaining the decision to send the group away for a period of introspection rather than a stint of so-called ‘naughty boy nets’, Bayliss said: “We posed some questions to them in the changing room, giving them 24 hours to have a think about it, and then have an informal chat.
“It won’t be me standing up in front of them like a schoolteacher. There are some deep conversations going on.”