Hales and Compton could swap places - Bayliss
Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, has sought to reassure his top-order batsmen that their modest displays in the victory over South Africa will not necessarily lead to their exclusion from the Test side that takes on Sri Lanka in England in May.
But Bayliss has conceded that, with batsmen unable to cement their positions in the team, "there are possibilities" for players in domestic cricket who start the County Championship season well.
Alex Hales and Nick Compton both contributed just one half-century each during the four-Test series against South Africa. But Bayliss saw enough in each of them to retain faith that they could prove valuable players for England, though possibly in different batting positions.
Certainly he retains faith in the natural talent of Hales - a key member of the limited-overs squads - and feels that Compton will find greater consistency once he relaxes in the England environment. And while Hales looked vulnerable outside off stump, Bayliss felt some technical work - and perhaps a move down the order - could help him flourish in Test cricket.
"Hales is one of the guys who will be disappointed with how he's gone in this series," Bayliss said. "I thought the first couple of games, even though he didn't score a lot of runs in Durban, he looked quite comfortable at the crease and like he belonged.
"He's one of those guys who has shown what he can do at this level. So it's about knocking off a few of those rough edges. Whether it is as an opener or somewhere else in the order, he is certainly a guy with a lot of talent.
"Swapping Compton and Hales is one of those possibilities. Compton has done the job before and I think Hales has batted at No.3 before. That is certainly an option and has been spoken about in the past."
Bayliss admitted there had "been glimpses" of the intensity that that did not always endear Compton to all his colleagues, but suggested he looked "very solid" at times early in the series. And while Compton - perhaps scarred by his previous experiences in the England environment - has seemed somewhat unnerved by talk around his relatively sedate pace of play, Bayliss suggested he should not feel any pressure to change his natural game.
"Early in the series, I thought he looked very solid," Bayliss said. "Yes, he played a few more shots than I thought he would. Whether that's any different to what he has done in the past, I'm not sure.
"Hopefully, he's not confused with what his role in the team is. He and Alastair Cook are very much blokes the rest of the order can bat around. So if he approaches it his natural way and scores 80, 90 or 100 or more, the rest of the attacking players can bat around him.
"I think there were a few glimpses of that intensity. But a few of the coaching staff and people I've been talking to were saying that change in him since the first time he played for England was very noticeable. So hopefully he is relaxing as he gets a little older to give himself the best opportunity to succeed. He is trying to do whatever he can and certainly some of the signs were pretty good."
With neither man - or James Taylor, who also made a single fifty in the series - having made an irrepressible case for their continued selection, though, Bayliss said he would be watching the early weeks of the county season with interest. Given England's almost relentless schedule, and the fact that he was appointed mid-way through last year, Bayliss has seen very little of the talent available in the county game, but did take the opportunity to watch England Lions team training a couple of times while he was in the UAE.
"The players we have in South Africa are the best players we have at home," he said. "But I think it is also a sign to everyone else in county cricket that, if I come out and score runs early in the season, there are possibilities there.
"So when I watch county cricket, it will be a little bit with a view towards current selection and a little bit about looking towards the future. From my point of view, it is not necessarily about technique and the number of runs scored. It is the style of player or person. It's about guys that have got a bit about them, guys who are a little bit tougher.
"They always seem to be the guys that can make it at the top level. You don't necessarily have to have the best technique to score runs or take wickets. It's how you use the technique that you've got and being hard enough and strong enough and smart enough to be able to use that in the right context.
"I'll certainly be making an effort to watch some cricket and start to understand a bit more about the English game."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo