Opener and quicks among SA concerns
The England selectors will meet next week to pick the Test squad for the South Africa tour with familiar problems to discuss. There will be another change in opening batsman for the first Test in Durban after Moeen Ali's failures in the UAE, with Alex Hales likely to be the next tasked with filling the vacancy, while issues remain over the productivity of the middle order.
There will also need to be discussions over extra pace-bowling resources, due to the different conditions offered in South Africa and a number of injury concerns. Steven Finn (foot), Mark Wood (ankle) and Ben Stokes (shoulder) are all under fitness clouds which could pave the way for a call-up for Mark Footitt, the left-armer who has recently signed with Surrey after a prolific two seasons for Derbyshire in which he has taken 160 first-class wickets.
Wood was withdrawn from the ODI and T20 squads in the UAE due to his ongoing ankle problem, which will now be further assessed by specialists in the UK. Finn is making good progress after being ruled out of the Pakistan series with a stress reaction in his foot - he has also undergone an operation on a toe - and is hopeful of joining the EPP set-up in Dubai in late November for warm-weather training.
However, both he and Stokes - whose collarbone injury has improved after the serious-looking incident on the opening day in Sharjah - may struggle to be fit for the start of the South Africa tour, which begins with two warm-up matches before the first Test in Durban on Boxing Day, although they could still travel with the squad.
"Fingers crossed, the last three days he's improved well," Alastair Cook said of Stokes. "We'll have to work hard on him because he's a key part of this side as one of those four seamers."
The situation regarding the openers is again form, rather than injury, related. It was always likely that the Moeen move would be a one-off for the UAE but, even factoring that in, it proved a clear failure as he scored 84 runs in six innings while his bowling also declined, with him taking nine wickets at 48.66.
"It certainly wasn't as successful as we'd have liked, or I'm sure Moeen would have liked," Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, said. "Hales is the other opener in the squad. I think he'd be desperately unlucky not to go to South Africa. We've got a chat in about a week's time, so I'm sure that will be high on the agenda."
Moeen is still likely to be retained as the main spinner, possibly moving back down to his Ashes role at No. 8, with his slot alongside Cook taken by Hales, who has carried drinks throughout the Test series in the UAE. However, despite England's selectors wanting to divorce Test and limited-overs cricket, Hales can ill afford a poor one-day series against Pakistan following the lean time against Australia in September when he made 53 in five matches.
England's batting remains overly reliant on the runs of Cook and Joe Root. They are the only players to score Test hundreds since the start of the Ashes; Cook made England's one century in this series with his 14-hour 263. After James Taylor slotted into the middle with a composed 76 in Sharjah, further personnel changes appear unlikely although Gary Ballance's name may come up and Bayliss said that solving the issues of collapses is down to clear thinking.
"I think once you lose one or two wickets, it's down to the next guy who comes in to actually say to himself 'I know we're trying to chase some runs here - but just for the next half-an-hour or so, what have I actually got to do here to keep us in the game?'
"Stop losing another wicket, stop the slide, get on top, and then go again when you've got a partnership going. Everything seems to move very quickly when you're losing wickets, and when that's happening no one seems to take their time to stand back from the situation and say 'Right, this is what I've got to do now'."
Bayliss also reiterated that Ian Bell remains committed to his Test career after he was under the spotlight throughout the series as his century drought extended to 12 Tests. His experience was again pinpointed as an important factor but he is firmly on notice.
"He personally wants to continue, he's made it known to the coaching staff that he wants to go on, to South Africa and beyond," Bayliss said. "Our middle order batting hasn't got a lot of experience so his experience is important but having said that, as with anyone in the team, it doesn't matter how experienced you are, performances do count. When any player gets closer to the end of the career than start of it, there are always these questions. It will get down to how badly he wants it."
England will take two spinners to South Africa, with Adil Rashid favoured to be retained alongside Moeen in the squad, while the other decision will centre around the wicketkeeper. Jonny Bairstow replaced Jos Buttler behind the stumps in Sharjah and he missed a vital stumping when Mohammad Hafeez had 97, but it would be a surprise if he was not given a run in the position. A decision will need to be made on whether to give Buttler a full break or include him as the second keeper: alternatives, as with opening batsmen and spinners, do not leap off the page.
Possible Test squad Alastair Cook, Alex Hales, Ian Bell, Joe Root, James Taylor, Ben Stokes*, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Mark Wood*, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn*, Jos Buttler, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Mark Footitt, Chris Jordan *fitness permitting
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo