To hear Joe Root talk, you would think it was England who had been thwarted by rain in Leeds. You would never think that England's premier fast bowlers had spent the morning being thrashed around Headingley by New Zealand's tailenders and that his side will have to set a new world record if they are to chase down their fourth-innings target.

Root can hardly be criticised for his positivity. Or his confident approach ahead of a testing final day. But if his talk of "an opportunity to do something special" and "going out to win" are genuine - and it is more likely they are part of a marketing push from Yorkshire that sees last-day tickets priced at just £5 (and free for U16s) - then England have been sucked into New Zealand's game far more than is sensible. While it might be fun to watch England attempt to win on the fifth day, the practical thing to do would be to bat for a draw. The game hasn't changed that much. England are one-up in the series, after all. A draw is all they need.

Whatever happens on the last day - win, lose or draw - it should not mask the issues that England face ahead of the Ashes. While this young side looks to be progressing, there are still some issues to be decided. The England selectors have several dilemmas to face in the coming weeks.

Spin bowling

Moeen Ali has endured a tough time with the ball since his recall to the side in Grenada. He suffered a side strain in the World Cup defeat against Bangladesh and was omitted from the original tour party to the Caribbean. But such was his success last summer and his own enthusiasm to return to the team, that he was drafted back into the side for the second Test in the Caribbean despite bowling just 12 overs in the County Championship. A lack of rhythm resulted in him bowling too many short balls and, after a disappointing fourth innings in Barbados, a drop in his confidence. While he scored 100 runs and claimed four wickets in the Lord's Test, he again struggled in the fourth innings and was unable to offer the control his side required at Headingley.

He needs to bowl. And, with that in mind, it may make sense to omit him from the limited-overs squad and allow him to return to red ball cricket with Worcestershire. He could play three Championship matches and rediscover some form ahead of the Ashes. Worcestershire, who will have Saeed Ajmal available, could be requested to ensure Moeen is given enough overs in return for making him available.

Alternatives for Moeen are not obvious. James Tredwell, who performed admirably in Antigua, is not assured of his place in the Kent side - he has played just once this season - and Monty Panesar hasn't played since April and continues to struggle with health problems. There is no chance whatsoever he could be selected for the Ashes.

Of the younger spinners, Adam Riley remains highly-rated and may well have a future at international level. But he has taken four wickets this season at a cost of 78.25 apiece and the selectors will be unwilling to risk his long-term development by premature selection against an Australia side who will look to capitalise on his inexperience. Zafar Ansari, with 20 Championship wickets this season at an average of 32.55, may well win selection for the UAE tour but might be similarly exposed by premature elevation.

Simon Kerrigan, who has also taken 20 Championship wickets this season for Lancashire, remains a good long-term prospect. But, after his chastening debut against Australia, he seemed to feel he was not ready for a return to the fray when it was mooted ahead of the Old Trafford Test last year and is currently rebuilding his game with Lancashire. His time will come but placing him in the firing line against Australia once more could prove counter-productive.

That leaves Adil Rashid. Rashid was taken to the Caribbean despite a poor Lions tour but failed to impress in the warm-up games and was left on the sidelines. While the interim coach, Paul Farbrace, remains a supporter of Rashid, there remains a view that he will need to bowl quicker if he is to be effective at Test level and that he continues to bowl too many release balls. But he might prove effective against the tail and with his good batting and decent fielding, remains a realistic candidate.

In truth, though, there has probably never been a time when spin bowling resources were so bare in England.

And that should come as no surprise. In recent seasons, the County Championship schedule has squeezed almost half its fixtures in before the end of May. As a result, there is little incentive for counties to produce first-class spin bowlers, with the emphasis more on limited-overs spoilers. While the situation has improved a little this year - counties play six Championship games before the end of May - if Andrew Strauss has his way, the situation will worsen. ESPNcricnfo understands that Strauss has recommended a schedule including just 10 Championship matches a season.

Ian Bell

It was presumed, at the time, that Ian Bell's series-defining batting in the 2013 Ashes could be the precursor to the finest form of his career. That the confidence gained from the success would push him to new heights. Instead, he has averaged 30.92 in 17 Tests since and has started to drop catches in the field. He has not reached 30 in his seven innings since making a century in Antigua and, in that time, passed 12 only once.

His first innings dismissal, pushing at one he could have left, was oddly poor for a man so adept at playing the moving ball, while his failure to go for a slip catch on the fourth morning was most out of character. Confidence would appear to be the key issue. Facing the likelihood that his ODI career is over - he is most unlikely to be named in the ODI squad for the New Zealand series - and stripped of the vice-captaincy ahead of this series, Bell is looking less secure in international cricket than he has for many years.

He is not about to be dropped. England need Bell at his best if they are to win the Ashes. He has the experience and technique to shield an explosive but slightly fragile middle-order and there are no obvious replacements (except Kevin Pietersen) in the county game. The selectors will hope a spell back with Warwickshire will help him recover his form, but it may be the England captain and coach need to underline to Bell how valued and integral to their plans he is. Even the most experienced and talented players suffer from doubts at times.

Gary Ballance

It is only four Tests since Gary Ballance entered the top 10 quickest batsmen in Test history to reach 1000 runs. But, such is the media volatility in English cricket that, to listen to some experts, you would think all his runs had come against the Pitcairn Islands.

Ballance has received three fine deliveries in the series to date - he was dismissed by a ball that kept low and moved sharply in the first innings at Headingley - and suffered three relatively modest scores. The predilection for the back foot - not dissimilar to Joe Root's - may sometimes mean he does not smother the movement of the swinging ball, but it will also prevent him from pushing at it as often as some of his colleagues. That first-class average - 55 - does not lie: Ballance is a fine player who is adjusting to life at the top level against some very good new ball bowlers. There were always likely to be some bumps on the journey.

Again, he is not going to be dropped ahead of the Ashes. England had many years of fickle selections - they used 29 players in the 1989 Ashes - and it took them nowhere. Ballance will be given time.


England's catching - or lack of catching - may well have cost them this Test. At one stage they dropped three chances in eight balls. If such errors are repeated in the Ashes, Australia will win with ease.

Part of the problem may be that England do not have their best catchers in catching positions. Adam Lyth, an outstanding slip fielder, has not been utilised here, while Chris Jordan, an extraordinary catcher, was rarely utilised in the slips against the seamers in the Caribbean.

While England's reluctant to change is understandable - those in possession have practised against these bowlers - it is also self-defeating. Lyth, who is now assured of his place in the Ashes, should be drafted into the cordon immediately, with Jordan's catching given due appreciation in selection meetings. It might even give him an edge over Stuart Broad.

Jos Buttler also continues to struggle standing up. While Buttler was picked on the basis that he was a work in progress - and has improved greatly standing back to the seamers - he remains a concern going into such an important series. But England are committed to him and need to take a long-term view on the inevitable days when he misses a chance.

Seam bowling

To see England's opening bowlers thrashed around Headingley by tailenders - Stuart Broad has conceded 203 runs from 33.1 overs in this match; the second most expensive analysis (in terms of runs-per-over) in Test history for bowlers delivering over 30 overs - was not encouraging.

Despite the promise of Mark Wood, the strength of Ben Stokes and the experience of Broad, England remain over-reliant on James Anderson. And, if the pitches in the Ashes offer him little, there could be some very long days in the field.

Perhaps the selectors might have taken a look at Mark Footitt, the left-arm fast bower, ahead of the Ashes. Not only is he brisk and reliable, but his footmarks would be of benefit to Moeen. As it is, England are likely to rely upon four right-arm seamers - the four who played the second Test, plus the likes of Jordan, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett - bowling somewhere between 80 and 90 mph. Each of them can be dangerous on their day but, as New Zealand's tailenders showed, on a flat pitch they can be made to look worryingly bland.


Alastair Cook's return to form with the bat - and he is arguably batting with more fluency at present than at any stage in his career - has bolstered his position in the team. Few doubt that England's strongest side contains Cook as opening batsman. But it has done nothing to improve his leadership in the field. To see Broad and Anderson forced into yet another spell on the fourth day, with fielders on the boundary and instructions to bowl short, was to see chaos reign.

Cook has many positive qualities and remains a fine leader with the bat. But his side have looked flustered by New Zealand's approach in this game and the bowling plans - for which he has to take some of the responsibility - have been wretched. England are committed to him for the Ashes, but it remains an area of concern and weakness.