Trevor Bayliss has refused to give incumbent opener Keaton Jennings any assurances as England rack their brains for the right top order following Alastair Cook’s retirement.
Record-breaking Cook had barely concluded his glorious farewell at The Oval before thoughts turned – for head coach Bayliss and management staff – to how on earth they are going to replace him.
Bayliss, set to fly to his native Australia on Thursday, will join a selection meeting by conference call before England announce who is in the frame to open the batting at Galle when the first Test against Sri Lanka gets under way on November 6.
There were already some hints in the air, though, as Bayliss admitted there is much to ponder – in the aftermath of England’s 4-1 Specsavers series victory over world number ones India.
The equation so far includes no seat on the plane yet reserved for Jennings, and acknowledgement that uncapped pair Rory Burns and Joe Denly will get a “fair hearing” – alongside James Vince.
The Hampshire captain, deployed at number three following his recall for last winter’s Ashes until being dropped again at the start of this summer, has an average of 24.90 after 13 matches.
Vince was left out when new national selector Ed Smith announced his first squad to face Pakistan in May.
It appears, however, that – as with all-rounder Moeen Ali as their new number three – England may even reason that the particular challenge of opening on sub-continental pitches could perhaps suit Vince.
Asked if that may be the case, Bayliss said: “Possibly, in Sri Lanka. Take Joe (Root) out of the equation, he has probably been our best number three over the last few years.”
While England were beating India at The Oval, Vince made a duck in each innings of Hampshire’s two-day victory at home to Somerset – a rare failure in an otherwise productive summer.
The stylish 27-year-old has nonetheless acquired an unwanted reputation with some as a batsman who often flatters to deceive, appearing fluent and well-set before falling to the sucker punch.
“I know he is conscious of it and trying to work his way through it,” added Bayliss.
“I gave him the challenge, when we dropped him, to go back and score plenty of runs. Averaging 40 in county cricket is not good enough.
“You have got to average 50 or 60 – and take out this last game, he was close to that and made some big hundreds. So he has done what we asked of him – whether he makes the cut or not we will find out in a week.”
Jennings, it seems, is in the same boat – despite a previous consensus that he would probably survive, in the name of continuity, and be given another chance to improve his modest record in 12 Tests.
Asked about the left-hander’s status, Bayliss said: “We have a meeting in a week’s time and I am sure it will be discussed.
“I’m sure he will be a bit nervous about which way it will go. His history – he scored runs in India on spinning wickets – I’m sure that will be in his favour.
“He is a big boy and knows runs on the board count as well. All those points will have to be discussed, and I can’t say at this stage whether he will go or not.”
Amid the uncertainty, Bayliss permitted himself a moment of wistful humour as he reflected on all-time record run-scorer Cook’s brilliant performance in his valedictory Test.
It was indicative too of the reality of life without Cook as Bayliss recalled his one-liner after the opener’s century in his final innings: “I did say to him ‘Mate, is there any chance you can come back and retire every game?’”