England are set to persist with Moeen Ali as Alastair Cook’s opening partner, but may decide out-of-form Jos Buttler needs another rest.
Coach Trevor Bayliss acknowledged, in the aftermath of defeat in the second Test, that both Moeen’s position and Buttler’s further down the order are in question.
But, confirming too that Cook will be “fine” for the third and final Test in Sharjah despite the captain’s obvious discomfort from a tight groin while batting in Dubai, Bayliss sounded more convinced about retaining Moeen than England’s wicketkeeper-batsman.
Buttler, still thought of as a rising star in all formats, has made just 156 runs in 12 Test innings since Bayliss took over as coach before the summer’s Ashes.
When his run drought persisted in September’s one-day international series against Australia, he was prescribed a break for the final three matches.
On his return, however, he has failed to shine with the bat in two Tests in the United Arab Emirates – and there were signs his wicketkeeping too was beginning to suffer as England went 1-0 down with one to play.
Jonny Bairstow, his understudy behind the stumps, made a more encouraging 68 runs in two innings at the Dubai International Stadium – where England lost by 178 runs on Monday, despite a brave rearguard which came close to achieving an unlikely stalemate.
Changes are sure to be considered on several fronts, and Bayliss said: “Obviously with Jos Buttler’s wicketkeeping position, it’s no secret he’s been a bit out of form – and he knows he needs runs as well.
“That’s a position we will sit down and discuss in the next couple of days.”
Coach and captain will have to consider the consequences for both team and player in the immediate and longer term.
England must win next week to avoid a third successive away series defeat to Pakistan.
Bayliss added: “We know Jos is a quality player, and I think he’ll play a big role in England’s future going forward.
“But like most blokes who have ever played the game, everyone’s been through a bit of a rough trot – and this is one of his rough trots.
“I think he’s a quality enough person and player [to know] we’ll see a lot better out of him in the future.”
Buttler’s potential is obvious, but Test cricket is proving a taxing environment for him.
“From my point of view, it’s a gut feel – how the guy is mentally I suppose,” said Bayliss.
“This is a must-win game for us to level the series, so I’m sure that’ll play some sort of part in our decisions.
“What I will say is if someone’s out of form it’s not as if they don’t care or are blase about it.
“They’re trying everything they can in practice to get better, and they’re not taking it lightly.
“They’re working their butt off to get better, [and] I think with the experiences they’re gaining in these conditions they’re learning all the time.”
Moeen, too, has struggled, in his new position – having never before opened in a first-class match until being asked to do so at the start of this tour, to accommodate a second spinner in these dry and dusty climes.
The all-rounder is an instinctive shot-maker and, after being becalmed in the first Test in Abu Dhabi, he could make just a single in each attempt at the Dubai International Stadium.
The manner of his second-innings dismissal, caught at second slip chasing a wide drive in only the fifth over, was especially concerning.
Bayliss nonetheless voiced his backing for Moeen, with the uncapped Alex Hales the only other obvious option on tour.
“As everyone’s aware, the opening batting position hasn’t been a success as yet.
“Personally, I think I’d like to give Moeen another opportunity. He’s a quality player.
“Yes, he’s in a position he’s a little unfamiliar with – but he’s a guy who wants to do it.
“To me, someone who wants to go out there and do it – that’s a guy you want in your team.”
England, therefore, appear likely to retain Moeen, perhaps put Bairstow behind the stumps in place of Buttler and recall James Taylor to the spot vacated in the middle order.
Taylor played two Tests against South Africa three years ago, and none since, but his decisive footwork against spin may well prove a persuasive factor in these conditions.