Surprise decider highlights England's arrested development

Roland-Jones ready for 'special feeling' of Lord's Test (1:22)

Toby Roland-Jones talks to ESPNcricinfo about when he learned of his place in the England team for the deciding Test against the West Indies (1:22)

In an ideal world England would have a settled team by now.

And, in an ideal world (for them, at least), they would have wrapped up this series and gone into the final Test resting key players and mumbling platitudes about the decline of Caribbean cricket.

But it's not that way at all. Instead they face an obviously encouraged West Indies side and the realisation that they will go to Australia unsure of several positions within their top five, needing to improve their bowling and a little short of the firepower required on flat pitches when the ball will not swing.

For all the entertaining cricket they have played, and for all the credit they deserve for winning the South Africa series, it is not at all obvious that England have made much progress as a Test side this English summer. Yes, James Anderson has proved he is still a force. And yes, Toby Roland-Jones has added to the seam-bowling stocks. But we knew Joe Root and Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes were fine players. What England really needed to see was for three or four other players to prove their worth alongside the settled seven or eight.

And now they go into a final Test on a surface that may well help seamers - and therefore one on which a session or two could define the result - with the burden of expectation weighing heavily upon them. Win and it is nothing more than what was anticipated. But lose? It is not the sort of history this team wants to be making.

It's odd that England are such heavy favourites, really. While West Indies' away record is modest - and the word 'away' could easily have been omitted from that sentence - they have beaten England in two of the three most recent Tests the sides have contested. And, for all West Indies' frailties, England are consistently inconsistent. Since Trevor Bayliss took over as coach before the Ashes in July 2015 they have lost as many matches (14) as they have won.

They also remain over-reliant on a few key players. With the bat, in particular, they have leaned heavily upon Root's consistency. His record of reaching fifty in 12 consecutive Tests is exceptional (nobody has done it more often in succession), but it has also masked holes. If West Indies get him early - and he was dropped on 8 in the first innings in Leeds - they may expose that dangerous middle-order against a newer ball and fresher bowlers. Root, as ever, holds the key.

In some way, it is remarkable what success England have enjoyed in recent times. To win Ashes series, to beat South Africa home and away, to go within a victory of reaching the No. 1 Test ranking is extraordinary for a team still seeking a regular opening partner, a settled No. 3 and another batsman in the top five. It points not only to the excellence of several other players, but the potential they retain if they can fill the remaining holes.

Root remains reluctant to return to the No. 3 spot. While it's easy to make a strong argument for him to move back to the position, his rebuttal - "No.4 is where I feel most comfortable" - is even more persuasive. Such is his importance to the side, it makes sense for him to bat where he is most comfortable. To move him, while tempting, might also be considered weakening a strength.

Mark Stoneman may well have done enough to earn the Ashes tour already. One Test half-century isn't enough to suggest the search for an opener is over but there is something in his equanimity that bodes well. And it's not as if he has a host of rivals clamouring for the place.

The same cannot quite be said for Tom Westley or Dawid Malan. While Westley started nicely, showing time to play the ball and some lovely timing, he has started to look a little more rattled as the scrutiny and pressure have grown. Whether it's fair or not, he is probably playing for his future at Lord's.

Malan has had almost the opposite experience. After a brutal start, he has ground out two half-centuries. It has not been pretty and it has not been entirely convincing. But ultimately runs are the currency that counts and, back on his home ground, he has another chance to establish himself. A failure, however, could see the likes of Alex Hales or Gary Ballance displace him in the Ashes squad.

With so much hanging on this game personally, it seems unlikely the likes of Malan and Westley will be able to heed Root's words to see the game "as an opportunity to do something very special".

There is some logic in the decision to play Roland-Jones. Quite apart from being a good all-round cricketer, as a Middlesex player he knows this Lord's surface well and should have few issues adapting to the slope. It might be remembered, though, that Chris Woakes took an 11-wicket haul the last time he played a Test here.

It seems there was little thought given to dropping one of the batsmen and playing both seamers. Or including the legspinner Mason Crane.

"You don't want too many options," Root said. "And you want to make sure the guys go out there and get rhythm. You look at the conditions and it looks as if seamers will be more productive on this wicket."

But with Woakes a more-than-proficient batsman and several of the bowlers carrying a few miles in their legs, the option of another seamer might be worth revisiting. Especially in Australia where flat pitches and warm weather could test Jimmy Anderson's shoulder, Ben Stokes' knee and Stuart Broad's feet to the limit.

Either way, it suggests the decision to recall Woakes (and drop Roland-Jones) for Leeds was premature. He had not had sufficient bowling - just 20 first-class overs - since returning from a serious injury at the start of June and had only played one first-class game since returning from India at the end of 2016. It was asking too much of him to expect a return to the level of consistency he demonstrated last year. He would have been better served playing a couple more Championship matches.

The same might be said for Crane. Settling into the England set-up - and benefiting from their coaching - in no doubt beneficial. But he is 20 years old and has played only five Championship matches (and taken 16 wickets at a cost of 40 apiece) this season. If he is to be ready for an Ashes tour, the decision to omit him from the limited-overs squads is therefore sensible.

The optimistic way to look upon this series decider is to conclude that the added pressure will be a welcome gauge of how some of these players can adapt to the demands that may await in Australia. And that, for Test cricket as a whole and West Indies in particular, such a decider can only be positive.

But that it has come to this for England is a reminder of how reliant they are upon Root and how many holes his excellence has masked. If West Indies can account for him early at Lord's, they will have a great opportunity to create history.