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England must find answers other than Joe Root after first Test against India ends in washed-out draw

If anyone has struggled as much as England’s batsmen this week in Nottingham, it has been the nation’s weather forecasters – day after day predicting endless rain with no prospect of play in sight, the reality turning out to be somewhat different.

However just like a batsman suffering a horror run, the meteorologists have been ‘due’. Much to the dismay of all those hoping for a thrilling conclusion to proceedings in the first Test at Trent Bridge, that return to form arrived on Day 5, the forecasted rain very much in evidence, washing out the day and ensuring the match was abandoned as a draw.

It was a frustrating end to a match that had gone into the final day with all results still possible, albeit with India bigger favourites to chase down the 157 more they required to win than England were to take the tourists’ nine remaining wickets.

While an England victory was still possible – India after all failed to chase a similarly relatively low target in the first Test of their last series on these shores – you would sense that the hosts will be delighted to be heading to Lord’s, for next week’s second Test, still level in the series, particularly after staring down the barrel of a 95-run deficit heading into their second innings.

That they have taken anything from this Test is almost entirely down to one man, Joe Root, rightfully named player of the match for his 173 runs in the game, including the match-saving knock of 109 second time around – by way of comparison the next highest score from any England batsman in the match was 32.

It is then undoubtedly with the bat where England have most concerns going into the next Test at Lord’s – not an uncommon state of affairs in recent years. Unfortunately for England, the problem’s familiarity has not rendered it any more solvable, with big question marks next to the names of all too many of their batting line up.

England’s top order has been a problem for almost a decade and this current side is no exception, with both Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley having reason to worry about their spots in England’s XI for Lord’s.

Whose place is most at risk perhaps ultimately comes down to a question of style or substance.

Crawley, despite a reasonably modest county record, has for some time been marked out as a future international star – a prophecy he looked well on the way to fulfilling after his sensational double hundred against Pakistan last summer – but since then he has endured a nightmare run, averaging less than 12 with the bat. It is surely reaching the point where removing him from the glare of international cricket seems like the kindest and best thing to do.

At the other end of the scale is Sibley, a weight of county runs behind him, but increasingly unpopular in the public perception, the limited nature of his ‘defence first, runs later’ style being called into question. An inability to kick on when required perfectly evidenced in the second innings of this Test, falling to the first shot played in anger after a painstaking 28 from 133 balls.

Perhaps as big a problem as the batsmen England have in the team is the lack of alternatives outside of it. One man however who could come in is Haseeb Hameed, scorer of a recent hundred against India for the County XI and seemingly much nearer to the sort of form that saw him selected for England the first time around, and not the precipitous decline afterwards that prevented him extending that international stint.

Apart from their batting, although not entirely unrelated to it, England also have big problems with the balance of their side. The withdrawal of Ben Stokes saw them play Sam Curran as their fourth seamer at Trent Bridge, with the hope it would bolster their batting lineup, although at the expense of a spinner in their attack, not to mention a bowler of superior quality to Curran such as Mark Wood.

Given England’s failure once again to make big first innings runs, and the relative inefficacy of Curran with the ball, it was not a gamble that overly paid off and one that remains all the more curious given who England have sitting on the sidelines bizarrely seemingly currently overlooked for selection.

With Stokes missing from the side, England are crying out for an allrounder to help them better balance the team, not to mention a competent spinner to provide support to what is quite easily their biggest strength, their battery of seamers. That they have Moeen Ali, a man who is both of these, not to mention a proven performer at international level, not even in their Test squad is a situation that seems increasingly bizarre.

Having escaped from Trent Bridge with a draw, it remains to be seen what changes England will make for Lord’s, perhaps they believe stability of selection will reap its own rewards – however on the evidence of their recent performances that would seem a mistake – this is a team crying out for a fresh injection of something, whether those in charge have realised it yet is a question we will have to wait to have answered.

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