Batting frailty raises opener question for England ahead of the Ashes




Three numbers that will be causing headaches for England management, as yet again the England top-order fail to take control of a test match.

The 4th test between India and England looks to be going the same way as the 2nd and 3rd, in that India look to be in control. We can't blame the pitch this time, England getting bowled out for 205 was all on the England batsmen. Even when questioning the pitches in the 2nd and 3rd test, you still have to question the England batting lineup.

This, however, isn't a review of the first day's play. Instead, it's a look at that annoying question that we just can't find an answer to.

Who are the England openers going forward?

The three numbers above are in order, Dom Sibley's batting average, Zak Crawley's batting average as an opener and Rory Burns batting average.

Burns has been on a horrible run of form as of late, averaging 28.22 in 2020 and just 14.50 this year. He looks devoid of confidence and his quirky technique no longer looks "quirky", it just looks questionable. 69% of his dismissals are either caught or caught behind, and with Australia on the horizon down under, someone who has a tendency to leave his bat outside his off-stump doesn't fill you with confidence.

I like Crawley and think he has a future for England, but his future for England rests at the #3 spot. He averages 82.75 at #3 (largely helped by his 267 against Pakistan) and just 22.82 when opening the batting. He has a stunning array of shots, but will his expansive nature suit opening the batting in England or Australia? In Australia perhaps, but his 33 average in first-class cricket leaves me sceptical.

Sibley has been a bit of an enigma, at times he looks the part, the English Pujara, someone that makes bowlers work for his wicket, but his struggles against spin have been all too evident. Three times he's been done by Embuldeniya and 4 of his last 5 dismissals have come from spin. I still have faith in Sibley on flat tracks or on green tops in England, lets not forget that he averaged 47.31 last year which included centuries against South Africa and the West Indies.

There is a good chance considering the time frame that England go into the first test down under with Burns, Sibley and Crawley. Some have suggested that Jonny Bairstow is the answer, but considering he struggles with pace and ball movement, that's about as much a non-starter as Jason Roy was.

So if not them, who? The fact that this is even a question less than a year out from the Ashes is less than ideal, we have 7 tests before we land in Australia for the most important cricket series, can we find the ideal partnership in 7 tests?

Here are a few dark horse candidates that could vault themselves into contention if they come flying out the blocks in the county championship.

Tom Lammonby - The Somerset opener is just 20 years of age and he's only 6 games into his first-class career, but he's averaging 51 with three centuries to his game. We recently wrote a piece on Lammonby that you can read HERE. Historically England have been reluctant to thrust youngsters into the limelight, but with the emergence of Crawley, Pope and Lawrence, maybe the times are changing.

Will Rhodes - Another player that we've recently featured. His 36.86 first-class average won't scream England test opener, but lets talk recent bias here. Over 9 Bob Willis trophy innings, Rhodes averaged 52.87. He continues to improve at Warwickshire and with the county championship being pushed to the boundaries of summer, opening the batting has become increasingly difficult, so it would be remiss to not consider that with Rhodes.

Haseeb Hameed - Lost at Lancashire, the former England opener found a home at Nottinghamshire and admitted that cricket was "fun" again. It's not that long ago that Hameed was being touted as the next great England opener, hand injuries derailed his ascent and it wasn't until his move to Trent Bridge that we started seeing the Hameed of old. He averaged 38.85 last year, but more importantly, he looked comfortable and happy. I don't expect it, but if he can find some form then he may vault his name into contention.

Jake Libby - We haven't really spoken about Jake much on IEC, but he was one of the most outstanding batsmen in the Bob Willis Trophy last year, racking up 498 runs at an average of 55.33. With a lifetime average of 31 in first-class cricket and already 28, it's a long shot, but if you average north of 50 in the county championship, then you're always going to be talked about. Consistency is the key for Libby.

Ben Slater - Very similar to Jake Libby. He has an underwhelming first-class average of 32.65m but he's coming off a season where he averaged 60.71 in the Bob Willis Trophy. Is that a mirage, or has the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire man cracked it at age 29. He's going to be another player to closely monitor as we go through the 2021 season.

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