Ramprakash calls for patience as England display red-ball shortcomings
The increased prioritisation of T20 cricket might be a contributory factor in England's top-order issues, according to their batting coach, Mark Ramprakash.
England have failed to adequately replace Andrew Strauss, who retired in 2012, or Jonathan Trott, who retired in 2015, in their top three, leading to a fragility in their top-order which looks set to sentence them to a seventh defeat in 10 Tests sometime over the next couple of days in Nottingham.
While Ramprakash defended England's batting in the current Test against South Africa - arguing, quite rightly, that South Africa's bowlers had harnessed helpful conditions expertly and several of England's top-order had been dismissed playing defensive strokes - he pointed out the reduction in County Championship matches per county this year (from 16 to 14 per side) to make way for something approaching a window for T20 cricket, and accepted that some of the traditional skills were less prevalent in the modern game. In English conditions in particular, he warned that could be exploited.
"With T20 being prevalent, a higher percentage of the batters we are seeing come through are gravitating to the white-ball game," Ramprakash said. "There are not as many of your tried-and-tested county openers. Look at the number of four-day games coming down in division one this year.
"The fact is that batting in the top order for England in home Test matches is not straightforward. It's just not. And top-order players play half their games in England. A couple of years ago, we saw Australia bowled out for 60. The ball didn't move all over the place. And in that same Ashes series, they chose to bat at Edgbaston and were bowled out for 130.
"When the ball does a little bit, you have to show due care and attention. But perhaps because there's a mix of one-day cricket and four-day cricket and the players want to be a bit more proactive.
"It is not easy to bed in players at this level when the ball nips around with overcast skies. It is not easy to get them settled and confident."
Ramprakash also pleaded for some patience with an England side he said were "learning as they go along" and suggested their level of natural talent had seen expectations rise to unrealistic levels.
"I don't think anyone is saying this England side is the finished article," he said. "Clearly, we're still trying to bed in players at two and three. We accept that. That's been the case for a while.
"The other thing is that expectations have risen because of the talent. The innings we've seen Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali play - we know they've played some sublime innings - and our expectations have probably gone up because of that. They've often played in that highly aggressive, attacking manner, which is the way they think is best.
"But if you look at Ben Stokes's fifty at Lord's, I thought he played really well, in an orthodox fashion.
"So they're learning as they go along. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes you'll see wonderful performances like we did in Cape Town and other times they might get it wrong.
"We would have liked more runs in the first innings here, of course. But when you look at England's innings, a number of players were out playing defensively. And there were a number of good deliveries. You have to give some credit to the opposition bowlers.
"The ball seamed around all day and it's always difficult to play when the ball's seaming. The guys on the one hand are trying to adapt to conditions, and on the other they want to play their own game and the way they think best so they are going to marry those together."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo