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The Bayliss conundrum

Trevor Bayliss could be forgiven for a somewhat resigned look as he answered questions from the media after England's defeat in the first Test against Pakistan.

How would he know which batsmen might be line to replace those who failed at Lord's? How could he know if there are better spinners available to England than Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid? What's the point in asking him about wicketkeeping options?

Because Bayliss, through no fault of his own, knows little about county cricket. He has never played it, hardly watched it and admits to not having seen several of the contenders to England positions play a game.

It does not mean his appointment was an error - England's results in the last year or so suggest quite the opposite - but it is a major weakness. It is compounded by the England's relentless schedule, which hardly allows him a chance to plug the holes in his knowledge with scouting trips (he quite reasonably - essentially, even - took a brief holiday after the World T20), and the fact that Alastair Cook, his Test captain, plays Division Two cricket with Essex and rarely comes up against most of those in contention. As a result, what have traditionally been the two most powerful voices in selection - the captain and the coach - are severely compromised when it comes to expressing opinions over new options or form players.

So it is not surprising that this England team management is pursuing a 'continuity of selection' policy. Anything else would largely be guesswork.

And while there are obvious benefits in that policy, there are also times when it unnecessarily limits the talent pool available to the national side. Was talk of recalling Jos Buttler (who has still not played a first-class game since he was dropped in October) ahead of the Pakistan Test series based on his ODI form? Or the possibility that he is one of the few players Bayliss knows?

While the England set-up is blessed by the knowledge and experience of Paul Farbrace, a man who tends to spend his days off nipping to a county ground to catch the latest action, he isn't officially a selector. Which leaves Bayliss hugely reliant upon the opinions of the other selectors Mick Newell and Angus Fraser, who also directors of cricket at Nottinghamshire and Middlesex, and James Whitaker, the chairman of selectors and the one man with the freedom to watch players in both divisions. Andrew Strauss remains occupied more with strategic direction than specifics of selection.

Whitaker is an assiduous fellow. Whatever you think of his opinions - and there can be few genuine gripes about selection in recent years - he cannot be faulted for the miles he travels, the amount of cricket he watches or the opinions he canvases. But Bayliss, Cook and co. have become hugely reliant upon him.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is a change. For several years (from Duncan Fletcher onwards, culminating in the days of the all-powerful Andy Flower) the England coach took overall responsibility for the side as they were also given overall power of picking and coaching it. Bayliss can't have that power or that responsibility. He is overly reliant upon a committee to give him his teams. Even the media, who may have some influence at times, tend to focus only on England players, or former England players, because they rarely have the opportunity to watch up and coming county players.

Bayliss is, at heart, a 'hands off' coach. He has won praise from the dressing room, on the whole, not so much for what he has done, but what he has not: no fuss; no interference; no meetings (or fewer, at least); no drama and no extraneous talk. He has encouraged the white-ball sides, in particular, to trust their talents and instincts (a change of approach that was actually instigated a little while before he started; it was Farbrace at the helm for the watershed ODI series against New Zealand) and the results have, on the whole, been encouraging.

But if you are a hands off coach and limited in terms of your ability to offer selection opinions, you are in danger of becoming a luxury item. Sometimes coaches need to interfere. Sometimes they need to know all the selection options at their disposal.

Besides, the same approach England have taken to their batting in ODIs has been their weakness in Tests. It has led to the "naive" batting criticised by Cook in the aftermath of Lord's. Bayliss, who was appointed largely on the basis of his limited-overs success, has to take some of the responsibility for that.

He gave a press conference in South Africa in which he said - quite clearly and unequivocally - that he preferred "attacking style batters." It was, at the time, interpreted as a less than fulsome expression of support for the style of Nick Compton and a suggestion that he would prefer more aggressive batsmen in the top order.

In the months since, those words have been reinterpreted. They have been twisted a little to suggest he meant players should be positive in defence as well as attack. That their footwork should be certain and their movements carry conviction. Fair enough; we can all understand that.

But here's what Bayliss actually said:

"Ultimately, I'd like to see two of the top three guys as attacking-style batters. I just think if you have a couple of attacking guys up the top it puts pressure on the opposition a lot easier. If you've got three who don't necessarily get on with it you can be half-an-hour before lunch at 0 for 30, you happen to lose two and it's 2 for 30 two hours in. If you've got guys who can play their strokes and get on with the game, if you lose a couple before lunch you're 80, 90 or 100."

That is - clearly and specifically - not asking his players to be positive in defence and attack. It is asking them to score more quickly. It is asking them to attack.

So he cannot look aghast at James Vince chasing a wide one, Joe Root slog-sweeping one outside off stump or Moeen charging down the pitch. That is the style he has encouraged England to play. And it is a style that is beginning, in Test cricket at least, to hold them back. Like Kevin Keegan's Newcastle, England's style will entertain and win friends. It won't make them the No. 1 team.

It also sells them a little short. The likes of Root, Buttler and Ben Stokes are richly talented. They have it within them to be top players in all formats. They just need to learn to complement their flair with some discipline. No-one wants them to change and become blockers, but even Viv and Sachin built their games around a solid defence. England too often seem to attack because they don't trust their defence.

At present, they rarely win games on pitches that might be considered good for batting - the South Africa tour is a bit of an exception to that - but look dangerous in conditions where they can exploit movement with the ball and plunder quick runs with the bat. Again, that will take them so far. It won't take them to No. 1.

If England are to win consistently, if they are to progress further up the Test rankings, they need to play more sophisticated cricket. And perhaps Bayliss need to spend some time - during international games, if necessary - touring the counties to learn more about the players at his disposal. If he's going to be judged on the sides he coaches, he really needs more input in selecting them.