Might England have found another piece in the jigsaw? It's been a long time since they could feel they had a settled opening pair. Arguably not since the days of Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss - who opened together for the last time in 2012 - have England been able to look a couple of series ahead and predict, with some degree of certainty, the identity of both openers.

But, as Dom Sibley and Rory Burns posted the first century stand by England openers at home since 2016, it did seem realistic to imagine that this would be the pair in possession when England start the 2021 season. Yes, they will be tested in different ways in Asia this winter - the smart money currently suggests England may return to Sri Lanka in January and play their Test series against India after that in the UAE - but the manner they have adapted and overcome challenges so far bodes well.

Sibley will end this series having reached 50 three times in five innings. His average, for both the series and his career to date, is in the mid-to-late 40s and twice in his last six Tests, he has made a century that has played a substantial part in establishing a match-winning position. He may not be especially pleasing on the eye, but the scorecards he helps create will be. He has earned a prolonged opportunity.

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Burns, too, has averaged in the mid-40s this series. Without going on to make a significant score, he reached 30 in four of his five innings and, in his final innings here, showed a welcome ability to accelerate against the spinners.

Both men have slightly complex trigger movements and technical set-ups. As a result, when things go wrong - and they're bound to from time to time - their dismissals may look uglier than normal. But they are both patient and tight outside off stump and together they have given England a stability they have lacked for the best part of a decade.

It's no coincidence that, since they started playing together in November, England have made 400 four times. On another occasion, they declared on 391 for 8. Before that, England had managed a total of 400 only once since the start of 2018. And then it came in a second innings. Sibley and Burns represent a significant step forward.

There may be days - there may even have been moments on the afternoon of the third day - when their solidity creates some impatience. With a first-innings lead of 172, they might, in a perfect world, have pushed on a little earlier. Every side would love the likes of Virender Sehwag or Chris Gayle at the top of the order.

But England have been there and they've tried that. They tried to turn the likes of Alex Hales (who was involved in that 2016 century stand alongside Cook) and Jason Roy into Test openers. Four times in three years they lost all 10 wickets within a session. They were bowled out for under 90 three times in 2019.

Maybe we've been spoiled in recent times, too. In England, in particular, ball has so dominated bat that matches have almost seemed to be played in fast forward. Expectations raised by England's limited-overs cricket - and T20 cricket, in general - have led some to think it's easy to score freely and an attacking intent is all that's required.

But Test cricket, in England especially, is a different beast. The red ball provides more lateral movement and attacking fields punish any mistake. Sehwag, it might be remembered, averaged a modest 27.80 in England. There are no shortcuts to success. The old fashioned virtues so expertly displayed by the likes of Burns and Sibley, and before them the likes of Geoff Boycott, Mike Atherton and Cook remain key in such conditions. If Sibley and Burns frustrate occasionally, it's a probably a price worth paying.

Those who were impatient with Sibley and Burns might also reflect on the state of play when England began their second innings. We were midway through the afternoon session on the third day of this match. That's the halfway stage. And while there is rain forecast for Monday, these forecasts are not always reliable. The fact is, England declared their second innings with eight wickets in hand on the third evening; it's unreasonable to expect a great deal more.

If the opening dilemma is resolved, it leaves England with only one obvious position left to fill in the top six. Whatever Joe Root's issues with converting his fifties into centuries, his position at No. 4 is not in question, while Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope appear equally certain of their roles at No.5 and No. 6.

That leaves a clear message to batsmen about to play in the Bob Willis Trophy. If they want to break into this England side, the likes of Dan Lawrence probably have to be batting in the top three. That's where the vacancy remains. Their chances of forcing a way into England's middle-order are minimal. Zak Crawley is in pole position to take advantage in the short term.

Batting doesn't stop at No. 6, of course. A feature of England's cricket in the Trevor Bayliss years, was the contribution of the lower middle-order and even the tail. But Jonny Bairstow has gone from No. 7, Moeen Ali has gone from No. 8 and Chris Woakes' batting form appears to have deserted him. In his most recent six Tests, he's averaging 5.22 with one score above 6 in nine innings.

There's every indication that Jos Buttler's first-innings half-century - his first in 15 innings and second in 24 - will have bought him an extension in the side. But it's worth remembering James Vince's final Test innings (for now, at least) was 76. England's absence of lower-order runs has been a weakness in recent times.

But the emergence of that opening pairing will reassure the selectors. The ability to see off the shine and wear down the bowlers might not be especially attractive to those putting together highlights packages, but it's vital to lay the foundations for an attacking middle-order and it's exactly what England have been missing.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo