Cricket Expert & Columnist
Ashes 2013/14: Joe Root and Ian Bell vying to replace Jonathan Trott at No 3
Trott's departure gives England's selectors dilemma over No 3 slot, while No 6 debate rumbles on...
Last Updated: 04/12/13 11:44am
Root stood firm to score an unbeaten 26 at number six in England's second innings at the Gabba as the tourists were bowled out for 179 to lose the first Test by 381 runs.
The 22-year-old has batted in a number of positions in his 12-Test career - including 10 times at number two (average 37.66), four times at number five (54.25) and seven times at number six (32.80).
But although Root has yet to bat at number three, Atherton believes the Yorkshire batsman can score runs in that position and says Ben Stokes "might be a good outside bet" to take his place at six.
"We wish Trott well in his recovery and England will have to move on and come up with some answers because they'll need a new number three now," said Atherton.
"They are not adding to the squad as yet - Andy Flower seemed pretty clear about that - so I assume Joe Root will bat at number three in the next Test match, and then either Bairstow, Ballance or Stokes will come in.
"I thought Root played really well at the dying end of the Test at the Gabba; I thought he looked really solid. He played Mitchell Johnson well, he looked compact, he got a nice stride into the ball.
"He also dealt with all of the verbals. It was a very intense passage of play and his angelic smile seemed to disarm Mitchell Johnson as well.
"So I think I would move him up to number three; we keep shunting him up and down the order but playing for England, you've got to do what the selectors and the management would want. The other option is Ian Bell, I suppose."
However Atherton's fellow former England captain Nasser Hussain told The Ashes Breakfast that the tourists' bid to get back into the series following their mauling in Brisbane would be best served by promoting Ian Bell to number three.
"[Former coach] Duncan Fletcher has always felt that the batsman who should be batting at number three for England is Ian Bell.
"Bell is your classic number three. He is a high-class, experienced player with lots of touch, he's got runs against Australia of late and he is the obvious man to move up to number three.
"The only thing that might throw a spanner in the works is how well Joe Root played not only the deliveries of Mitchell Johnson, but Johnson gave him a bit of chat on day four and Joe just laughed him off and played him beautifully.
"Andy Flower and Alastair Cook will look at that and say 'Joe Root, you did brilliantly - get up there and do that again'. It will be tough on Root because he would have gone from six to two, from six to three and as a young lad you don't want to be moving around the order like that.
"Then you'd have to bring in either Bairstow or Ballance. Ballance being left-handed might have an advantage but I think Bairstow is the next cab off the rank."
Atherton, though, believes the selectors are yet to be convinced that Bairstow - who averages 30 in 12 Tests - can cut it at Test level and says that Stokes might be the better option as it gives England an extra bowling option.
"Number six is an interesting one because England haven't nailed it down for a long time now," said Atherton. "They tried Eoin Morgan two or three years back and given Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor a go.
"This issue is coming back to haunt the selectors a little bit. So whoever they bring in is going to be untried to a certain extent.
"Bairstow has played a bit but they've obviously got concerns about him; Gary Ballance hasn't played at all and hasn't scored runs on the tour yet, so would be a complete leap in the dark.
"The slight outside bet might be Ben Stokes because they go to Adelaide next, which is a very, very flat pitch. If they did play Stokes at six that, if the pitch looked very flat, give them the option of bringing Monty Panesar in and playing a second spinner, with Stokes as the third seamer."
Hussain added: "The only problem with Stokes is how much cricket has he played on the trip? England will be really juggling things around now.
"Stokes would give them an extra option - especially going to Adelaide; on a flat pitch there they might need the extra bowler, because at times they looked a little bit short in the field Brisbane.
"You always become a better player when you are out of the side! But the bottom line is that they've lost a very, very good player - a world-class player - in Trott."
See if England can hit straight back in the series when the second Ashes Test at Adelaide begins on December 4. Coverage begins on Sky Sports 2 at 11pm.