By Charles Dagnall
In what seemed like a hastily-arranged press conference at Lord’s, Andrew Strauss signed off on his final chapter of his cricketing life and dissolved into the shadows. Heir apparent Alastair Cook was duly given the job, and his first on-field task will be to attempt to conquer arguably the most difficult touring destination on the Test map – the daunting task of a four-Test series against India.
He has matters to attend to first before they board the plane. And whether Kevin Pietersen will be checking in with the rest of the party is on top of the agenda.
It is critical this gets sorted one way or the other and the side hit the subcontinent with as harmonious a dressing room as possible.
But this article is about the line-up to face India - who, no doubt, will be smarting from the 4-0 crushing in England 12 months ago - and who bats where.
I have seen many a TV pundit with their side, and nearly all have Jonathan Trott pushed up the order to open with Cook. It's a theory I am completely against.
In India complications occur when the shine is off the new ball and the spinners are brought into the attack, as it has always been. Let's assume that Pietersen is playing for the moment. I would want my most experienced players in Trott, Ian Bell and Pietersen in those key top order spots, rather than a more youthful engine room trying to cope, not only with their introduction to Test cricket and the pressure it brings but to score runs against spin if wickets have fallen.
I would draft in a new opening batsman to form a long-term partnership with Cook as facing the new ball against in India is not a stiff task in comparison to facing it in South Africa or Australia. Joe Root and Michael Carberry are the options that spring to mind, and I'd lean towards Root, simply because of his age, his excellent technique and I like a right-left combination to open the innings. Plus Root bowls very useful off-spin. Back in 2006, a young opening batsman was plucked out of the Lions side, who were in the West Indies at the time, and asked to open in the first Test for England against India and he scored a century on debut. That youngster is today the established captain Cook.
The top order is thus sorted. But then there is the No 6 slot - I’m still assuming Pietersen is playing here. Two very young talented batsmen in Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor are battling for this slot. In all likelihood it will be Bairstow who will get the nod after his heroics in the final Test against South Africa this summer at Lord’s. But from what I have seen, a brave captain and coach would look at the conditions and plump for Taylor. He is very natural against spin, and his wristy technique and small stature make him perfect for steady accumulation. While Bairstow has the potential, I fear that he still searches for the loose delivery that is not quite there. He is more comfortable against pace. If Pietersen isn't selected, both may get in.
Whatever you may or may not think about Pietersen and what has occurred over the past weeks, (and I have to admit, I'm not as down on him as many are), England will want him to play. Going into the subcontinent with potentially three young faces in the top six is a worry.
Whatever the order, Alastair Cook will have a very tough introduction to life at the top.
(Charles Dagnall is a cricketer-turned-commentator who played for county teams Warwickshire and Leicestershire. A reputed seam bowler for eight years, Dagnall was known for ability to swing the ball either ways. Retiring from the game due to an injury in 2005, Dagnall took to broadcasting and has been a commentator for the BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio 5 live. You can read all Dagnall’s blogs at http://www.livingcricket.co.uk/blogs/charles-dagnall or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportdaggers)