The second opener
Since Andrew Strauss's retirement in 2012, the England team has tried six different men to partner Alastair Cook at the top of the batting order, for an average of six Tests each. None of them except Nick Compton has managed to pass fifty more than twice, although only Carberry and Trott have failed to make centuries:
There are a handful of players that might fill the gap at the top of the order. Unfortunately, very few make a compelling case for the spot:
However, he may still have to wait until after the UAE to show what he can do. In order to accommodate a second spinner in the UAE, it is possible that Moeen Ali will be promoted from number eight to the top of the order. In his favour would be that he has a good record in the top three for Worcestershire and opening the batting in One-Day Internationals, although he has rarely if ever been used as a first-class opener.
There is also a chance that one Yorkshireman will be replaced by another, with Alex Lees having long been regarded as an England prospect. Although his Championship stats - a career average under 40 and just one century this season - don't suggest that he simply must be picked, they do bear a striking similarity to Joe Root's career record when he was handed an England debut.
Finally, it is just about feasible that England will pick a tall, left-handed Essex opener to partner their tall, left-handed Essex opener. Although his runs have come in Division Two, he is the only young opening batsman who averages over 40, and bears a striking similarity to the England captain at the crease. If the aim is to pick one specialist and stick with them, then Browne may be the best bet.
During the same period, spinning duties have changed hands with alarming frequency. Although Moeen Ali has been the preferred post-Swann option, he has been unable to shake the tag of being a "batsman who bowls" and not the "proper spinner" that the England team needs:
It is unthinkable that Moeen would be dropped for the UAE tour, but it is possible that he may slip back to a more of a second spinner's role while someone else is brought into the side to be the main strike bowler. Once again, there are few stand-out candidates:
Instead, the heir apparent is Adil Rashid, who has spent England's last ten Tests as a drinks waiter and squad-filler. Between times, he has made a return to the ODI and Twenty20 teams, and continues to be an effective all-rounder for Yorkshire. Were he to be selected, it could be in place of Jonny Bairstow, allowing for a specialist opener to fulfil that role. He is the first cab off the rank, but his habit of bowling a lot of bad balls means that neither he nor Moeen Ali will offer the control that Team England requires.
James Tredwell could offer that control. His two Tests, spread across five years, have been characterised by him refusing to concede runs, and picking up wickets due to the resulting pressure. Despite being an unfashionable cricketer playing for an unfashionable county, the tour of the UAE would be the perfect opportunity for him if he and Moeen weren't both off-spinners. It seems that this will be used as a reason not to select him.
All of which leaves Zafar Ansari. Despite an unremarkable career record, he has bowled very well this season and has been rewarded with a call-up to the washed-out ODI in Ireland. Significantly, he also opens the batting for Surrey, and while he hasn't set the world alight with that facet of his game, he might just be the masking tape that England can use to fix two problems in one go. The usually well-informed George Dobell has hinted that this is a strong possibility.
Personally, I don't know who I'd pick. It would be tempting to take a chance on Liam Dawson, despite being yet another spinner with unflattering career numbers.
The third seamer
Despite having tried several seamers to complement Anderson and Broad, none has really put their name on a place in the side to the extent that would mean they pick themselves:
In the UAE, where two spinners will be the order of the day, Ben Stokes will be more than adequate as a third seamer for England. Once they get to South Africa, however, they will be needing to include another quick bowler to better exploit the conditions. The man who should have the first opportunity to make the role his own is Steven Finn. In spite of his recent problems, he has returned to the side and taken plenty of wickets - although he has yet to prove that the Edgbaston performance was more than just a flash in the pan. All the same, his impressive return to the fold should give him priority over the likes of Wood and Jordan, who have been less than effective.
The selectors will also be hoping that their answers to some of the questions faced by the England team will solve some of the other problems that linger in the English Test side. Perhaps the selection of Adil Rashid will mean that Jonny Bairstow, whose Test batting record has more than a passing resemblance to that of Mitchell Starc, will no longer be needed. Perhaps the selection of Zafar Ansari will help England to stumble on an opener who can handle real pace. Or perhaps they'll be back in the same position in twelve months' time.