Ben Stokes, England's new Test captain, has confirmed that Joe Root will move back to No. 4 in the order when the team returns to action against New Zealand next month. Root, Stokes' predecessor who stood down after five years in the role, had moved up to No. 3 for England's most-recent series, a 1-0 defeat in the Caribbean.
Root averages 51.27 at four, almost 12 runs higher than his mark at first drop - despite scoring two centuries in six innings against West Indies. He shuttled up and down at various points during his captaincy, but Stokes revealed that he had already spoken to Root about his plans for the batting order as England seek to revive their fortunes in the longest format.
England deployed Dawid Malan at No. 3 during the Ashes, and have tried a number of batters in the spot without success over recent years. With Stokes shifting down to No. 6 to balance his workload, he said he would also be looking for someone to "put their hand up" to bat at No. 5, with Dan Lawrence, Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow and possibly Harry Brook, currently the leading run-scorer in Division One, all potential candidates.
"I've already spoken with Joe. I've asked him to go back to four and I'm going to be at six," Stokes said. "Wherever Joe bats he gets runs, but his best position is at four. Joe will probably be averaging 90 now instead of 60 [Root's average in 2021], so it'll be good.
"I feel him at four and me at six gives us a bit of experience in that gap. So you can obviously see where the places are opening up for people to put their hands up: it's three and five.
"I now feel I have to follow a lot more of the county games now to see who is scoring runs rather than just checking the Durham score."
On the bowling front, Stokes suggested that England had "exciting" options, and that he intended for the best XI to be selected at all times. It has already been confirmed that James Anderson and Stuart Broad will be in contention after missing the Caribbean tour, while Ollie Robinson made a wicket-taking return for Sussex this week.
Sam Curran has also been eased back into first-team action for Surrey, but England's quicker options, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, remain in the treatment room.
"You look at the players who aren't available through injury - Wood, Archer, Stone, Curran - they'd all be seriously fighting for places," Stokes said. "Then you place them among Broady, Jimmy, Robbo, Woakesy … it's so exciting to think about the team we could put out there if we don't have any injuries. Unfortunately we do. We just have to pick the best XI we have to choose from and I'll always make sure we do that."
Stokes has only just returned from a knee injury and began his season with a record-breaking 161 off 88 balls for Durham this week. He confirmed that he would reluctantly miss some of England's limited-overs commitments due to the demands of the schedule. As an example, England will send a team to play three ODIs in the Netherlands in the eight-day gap between the second and third New Zealand Tests next month.
"The schedule definitely is something that needs looking at. It is ridiculous the amount of cricket that is expected of people," he said. "The fact there is a Test match and one-day series overlapping sums it up. It really needs looking at from a workload point of view.
"I don't want to miss England matches, I want to play as much as I can for England. In an ideal world you would have a schedule that allows you to play everything, but unfortunately it is not possible and my number-one priority is Test cricket at the moment, so I have to prioritise that over white ball."