After a thumping start to The Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, where England romped home to a scintillating victory at Lords, they lost the battle at Nottingham. With two more games to go, both the teams are evenly poised by claiming a win apiece. England did well at Lords but looked bereft of oomph at Nottingham.
England have developed into a force to reckon in shorter formats but have failed to inspire similar confidence in whites in the recent times. They were impressive at Lords but fizzled out in Nottingham. Their inconsistency has hampered their run in this format, and with this defeat, England have now lost six out of last 9 Tests since the Bangladesh tour in 2016. There are several factors undermining England’s stability, but for now, let’s focus on their inconsistent top-order.
It’s quite evident that England have not managed to find a dependable opener to accompany Alastair Cook at the other end since Andrew Strauss’ retirement in 2012. While Cook has done his job at one end, his missing co-star has been missing at the other end. England have experimented a lot at the top but yet to find a reliable opener. Since Strauss’ called it a day, Cook has opened with Nick Compton, Alex Hales, Adam Lyth, Sam Robson, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Moeen Ali, Ben Duckett and Jonathan Trott. Compton and Hameed did well at the top to have a partnership averaging over 50 with Cook.
Compton and Cook opened in 17 innings together, scoring 927 runs at a healthy average of 57.93 but the former’s bare runs column saw him being dropped after the Sri Lanka tour. Hameed did exceptionally well in opening the batting on five occasions with Cook in India. He showed awe-inspiring resistance at the top and stitched 338-runs partnership with Cook in five innings, averaging 67.60. Haseeb was injured during the India tour and has now recovered but hasn’t been on-song, which didn’t help his selection for the ongoing series.
Adam Lyth tried his hand as an opener in 13 innings but did nothing of substance except a century against New Zealand and a tenacious 37 against Australia. Alex Hales looked good and started the proceedings in 20 innings with Cook, averaging 34.20. But a poor run against Pakistan at home saw him being dropped. Sam Robson batted with Cook at the top in 11 innings, averaging 32.27 but there was no consistency. After Hales, Ben Duckett was given an opportunity in the Bangladesh tour after which, Hameed opened the batting for England in India.
A run-yielding opening pair brings solid stability and influences the batting line-up. If openers provide a solid start, especially in Test cricket, it eases a lot of pressure from the middle-order. Their survival at the crease, not only wears out the shine and hardness of the new ball but also infuses confidence. Top-order’s failure exposes the batting line-up a bit early, further putting them under pressure. Cook and Strauss got the job done at the top and got consistent starts. And, if England are eyeing for a revival in their Test fortunes, an impactful opening pair is certainly one of the much-needed things England require at the moment.
In the ongoing series, Keaton Jennings and Cook managed to get just a solitary solid start in four innings. Jennings only moment of glory came in the second innings at Lords test, where he scored 33 and accounted for a 80-run partnership at the top. Jennings has garnered 44 runs in two games, though he is just four Tests old but need to grab the upcoming opportunities and make an impact with some big runs to his name. He has the potential to do so and has done it in the past. England will certainly want him to fire from one end and get the team off to a flying start and further provide a solution to their top-order woes. Cook, on the other hand, did well on a couple of occasions and some support from the other hand will also ease off the pressure and help him play those long innings, for which he is known for.
WICKET Jennings bowled by Philander for 3
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 17, 2017
Gary Ballance chiselled his path into the side riding on some incredible performances in the domestic circuit. He was also backed by the skipper Joe Root to bat at Number. 3 in the lineup. But the southpaw has failed to convert promising starts into big scores. After a mind-boggling start to his Test career, where he got runs in heap, Ballance has not lived up to the expectations. In 16 out of 23 games, Ballance has batted at 3 and has done a fantastic job in averaging 46.44 at the said position. But, this was also the time when he was in magnificent form and first-half of his Test career. (Ballance averages just 21.15 in his last 10 Tests).
WICKET Ballance out lbw to Philander after a review
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 17, 2017
In the ongoing series, Ballance scored 20 and 34 in the Lords Test. He looked solid at the crease but fell prey to Morne Morkel’s persistence in both the innings. Number 3 plays a pivotal role in Test cricket, his role is to build an innings and lay a solid platform. Ballance threatened to do that at Lords but floundered after promising starts. At Nottingham, Ballance once again looked in good rhythm, scoring five boundaries for 27. But inside-edged a full delivery from Vernon Philander on to the stumps. In the second innings, the same bowler trapped him leg before as Ballance’s run ended for 4. It is likely that Ballance will be given another go and this is his golden opportunity to make an impact.
South Africa did not get any solid opening starts in the second Test but Hashim Amla delivered at three in both the innings, which was one of the key reasons behind their success. Although an opener accompanied him in both the second innings, but Amla was consistent. England’s top-order has to step up and get solid starts if they are eyeing to win the series. Or else, a few changes, as well as adjustments, is bound to happen with the Ashes approaching.