England are ranked number three in the world following this series
Victory in the decider at Centurion on Sunday secured England an impressive Twenty20 series win over South Africa, but with the T20 World Cup just eight months away questions remain.
From deciding how best to utilise Jos Buttler to asking if there is room in the team for Test captain Joe Root, BBC Sport analyses the issues likely to be occupying the minds of head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Eoin Morgan.
Who should open and where should Buttler bat?
Buttler has been employed as an opener by England since being promoted it the top of the order in the Indian Premier League. During the 2018 IPL season Buttler returned scores of 67, 51, 82, 95*, 94* and 39 at an average of 107 as an opener.
Despite scoring an impressive 57 off 29 balls in the third T20 in South Africa, there is still debate over whether Jos Buttler is best-placed as a T20 opener, the role he played throughout this series.
Buttler is one of the most destructive white-ball batsmen in the history of English cricket and averages 42.25 when opening compared to 23.71 when batting elsewhere. His two highest T20 international scores have come as an opener.
Giving him the most time to bat seems sensible.
All-rounder Moeen Ali believes it is a no-brainer, saying Buttler can win games in 10 overs when he comes off, while Morgan appears to be fully behind Buttler at the top of the order.
“We believe him, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow are our top three at the moment,” Morgan said, in an interview with Sky Sports.
“I think Jos has as much a talent as someone like [South Africa batsman] AB de Villiers.
“We need to back guys that have that sort of talent. When he delivers we win games of cricket.”
There is a school of thought, however, the team would be better served with Buttler as a finisher lower down the order – the role he plays so effectively in 50-over cricket – with others, such as Bairstow, capable of playing the role of fast-scoring opener.
Were Bairstow to move up a place from his current position of number three, he would reunite with Roy – England’s most successful opening partnership in ODI cricket and a key factor in England winning the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
Bairstow, like Buttler, has opened with great success in the Indian Premier League, scoring 445 runs at an average of 55.62 with a hundred and two fifties for Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2019.
England may not lose a lot at the top were Buttler to move, and he would likely excel in the middle order, but the wish for change will have been quelled by performances in the final two T20s in South Africa.
Moeen Ali hit 39 from 11 balls late in the innings in Durban, and Morgan 57 from 22 to get his side over the line in Centurion. Those two have shown they could succeed in the finisher’s role if Buttler stays at the top.
The battle for one batting place
Malan averages 52.11 with a strike rate 153.77 in 10 matches. He has scored one hundred and five fifties for England in T20s
With Buttler, Roy, Bairstow, Morgan and all-rounder Ben Stokes all certainties, there seems to be one space up for grabs in England’s top six.
Joe Denly played in the opening two games in South Africa and only missed the third because of illness. He seems to be the man in possession, despite averaging 9.60 from 12 matches.
Denly’s surprising selection has more often than not sidelined Dawid Malan, his replacement in Centurion.
Malan has a far superior record to Denly with three T20 hundreds in the past seven months and five in his career – more than anyone else in the England squad.
However, Morgan appeared to criticise Malan after he scored England’s fastest T20 century against New Zealand in November for not attempting to run a bye off the final ball, in a bid to finish not out.
“If we get guys that are not running off the last ball of the game because they want to get a not out, there’s something to address,” Morgan said.
Exciting 21-year-old Tom Banton is another who could come in, although he is an opener not a middle-order batsman.
Do England have room for Root?
Root’s last T20 innings was in May 2019
Another batsman who could fit into Denly’s place is Test captain Joe Root.
Go back to the last T20 World Cup – then known as the World T20 – and it would be hard to imagine an England team without Root four years later.
He was their leading run-scorer in the run to the final in 2016 and only two players – Bangladesh’s Tamim Iqbal and India’s Virat Kohli – scored more runs than him in the tournament.
Since then, Root, who has always maintained his wish to play across all three formats, has lost his place.
He has played in fewer than half of England’s T20s since the last World Cup. Many of those omissions were because he was rested but he has now been left out of the squad altogether with selectors favouring more powerful hitters.
Root himself admits he is probably no longer in England’s best XI.
The statistics back up England’s decision. Root averages 29.90 in matches since the last World Cup, a drop of 10 runs, and his strike-rate has fallen dramatically by 31 runs in that same period.
Some will argue England would benefit from his skills as a more classical batsman to provide the ‘glue’ around the big-hitters – Steve Smith and Kane Williamson will be key men in the line-ups of Australia and New Zealand respectively and both play in a similar style.
Root’s record stacks up favourably compared to those two but, with just six games before the World Cup opener in Australia, he has little time to prove himself.
Root will play a handful of games for Trent Rockets in The Hundred this summer and they could be his last chance to stake a claim.
What about the bowlers?
The series against South Africa may have been the highest-scoring three-match T20 series in history but each of England’s bowlers impressed at times.
Chris Jordan excelled in the first two games, Tom Curran won the second match at the death and Mark Wood took important wickets with his pace.
Jordan, who has only missed one England T20 in four years since the last World Cup, is a banker for Australia, as are spinners Moeen and Adil Rashid.
|England’s T20 matches before the World Cup|
|3 July: England v Australia, Chester-le-Street|
|5 July: England v Australia, Old Trafford|
|7 July: England v Australia, Headingley|
|29 August: England v Pakistan, Headingley|
|31 August: England v Pakistan, Cardiff|
|1 September: England v Pakistan, Southampton|
With Jofra Archer to return, Mark Wood looks to be the most at risk. He did not help his cause in the series decider when he was hit for 47 runs from three overs.
Worcestershire’s Pat Brown, who was in the squad for this series before suffering a stress fracture, is another who will be in the frame if he finds form on his return from injury.
Just like with the batsmen, though, England appear well stocked and more than capable of pulling off international cricket’s double.
What do you think?