England go into their Test series against New Zealand with a new head coach and hopes of building a side capable of challenging for the Ashes in 2021-22. Ahead of the opening match at Mount Maunganui, we looks at the key issues confronting Chris Silverwood and the England selectors.
Is Buttler the first-choice keeper/batsman?
The warm-up game at Whangarei was just the fourth time in as many years that Jos Buttler has been the designated wicketkeeper in a first-class game. He performed very creditably, with a sharp catch down the leg side highlighting a polished keeping effort to sit alongside a century with the bat, but if he puts down a chance in this series then expect the pressure to be straight back on him.
Picking Buttler as the wicketkeeper-batsman is a real demonstration of faith given his underwhelming Ashes - he passed 50 once and averaged 24.70 - and with Jonny Bairstow undoubtedly hoping to breathe down his neck ahead of the South Africa series, he needs a decent series to back up the selectors' faith.
Top-order conundrum: Part 93
Nth opener since Strauss, shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic, technique to bat long periods etc, etc - just fill in the details as appropriate. You could stock a medium-sized library with every word that has been written on the subject of England's top-order struggles over the past five years, and there's set to be yet another top-three combination at Mount Maunganui.
Dom Sibley is used to opening the batting with Rory Burns - they first walked out together for Surrey's 2nd XI - and is set to resume doing so on Thursday, while Joe Denly slots in at No. 3. Between them, that trio have only 20 caps to their name - the last time England went into a Test overseas with that little experience at the top of the order was an innings defeat in Antigua back in 1990.
Root's up-and-down hokey-cokey
"I've always thought the best thing for the team is for me to score runs and for a long time my record at number four suggested that would be the best thing for me," Joe Root reflected, days before the first Test of the Ashes series. "But, where we are as a team currently and where I'm at as a captain, I'm a good enough player to be able to make the same returns at three. Hopefully this can be a series where I stamp my authority in the role and make it my own."
Well, three months on and the skipper is back down at No. 4. "I just think it suits my game a little bit more - it definitely fits in with captaincy a little bit better for me," was his most recent verdict.
There is a certain pressure on Root to succeed, after the public show of faith in him from England's hierarchy since the Ashes. His average as captain is now as low as 40.81, while in away (and neutral) Tests he averages 43.56, and just 25.55 in New Zealand. That means that he could do with a strong series with the bat to dispel any doubts about his status, not least on what promise to be decent batting pitches.
ALSO READ: Has Root fallen out of the Fab Four?
How do you use Archer on flat tracks?
The other part of the Root puzzle is how he will fare as captain. It seems that the pitch at Bay Oval will be pretty flat, and the easy option will be to throw Jofra Archer the ball and hoping something happens, as Root opted to do time and again in the Ashes.
But there is a danger in treating Archer as a workhouse rather than a precious commodity, especially given his injury problems during the World Cup. Archer admitted in his Daily Mail column this week that he had never bowled with a red Kookaburra before the warm-up games, and he was underwhelmed to say the least - "it doesn't hold its shine and gets very old, very fast."
Instead, Root will need to juggle his bowlers well, acknowledging that they will have to be used in long spells at times. Jack Leach's ability to fulfil a holding role should help, but Root's acumen will come under close scrutiny if things start to go wrong.
What do England want from their third seamer?
It seems as though England have finally lost patience Chris Woakes' overseas record: with 18 wickets at 61.77 in 12 away Tests, he has struggled with any red ball other than the Dukes, and is set to miss out with Sam Curran preferred.
That decision leaves Woakes' career at something of an unexpected crossroads: he does not appear to be in contention for the T20 World Cup squad, having last played in the format for England in 2015, and given England's next real challenges in Test cricket are overseas, he may find himself struggling for game time - and that is before you consider his longstanding knee problem.
Curran, meanwhile, has taken only two wickets in his four overseas Tests, and his lack of pace was brutally exposed in the Caribbean earlier this year. Given Stuart Broad and Archer will likely take the new ball, he will be left with a slightly unclear role, playing as a swing bowler but being used once the ball has lost its shine; perhaps he will be expected to extract reverse swing, or simply to share some of the quicks' workload and contribute lower-order runs with the bat.