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Mark Stoneman needs to work harder and prove his worth against Pakistan…..

England have announced their 12-man squad for the opening Test at Lord’s against Pakistan, which includes some surprising decisions. Jos Buttler made the cut while England also retained Mark Stoneman for the opening slot. James Vince, Moeen Ali are the prominent names that missed out due to lack of form. Stoneman was not enjoying a great form for Surrey, where his highest score in seven innings was just 29.

Luck has been on Stoneman’s side as the southpaw manages to retain his side despite an average run in the 10 Tests he has played for England so far in this career. There have been occasional sparks of brilliance but nothing of substance on a consistent basis. He got good starts, but failed to convert it into substantial scores. In Test cricket, a team needs their top batsmen to score daddy hundreds, which has not been the case with England.

Opening the batting is inarguably one of the most tedious tasks against the red ball. It requires a different set of skills altogether. One just can’t afford to step a foot wrong against the new red cherry. If conditions favour seam bowling, the red leather will do all the talking and the batsmen need to bid their time and wear out the shine. But one just can’t afford to be too defensive and let the bowling attack settle down to find the rhythm.

Opening batting has become a huge matter of concern for England in the recent times. Alastair Cook’s poor form along with a misfiring partner has cost them dearly. Earlier, England’s predicament was to find Cook’s opening partner, but the southpaw’s parched runs column has only added to their trouble. Stoneman in his handful appearances has shown promise but it’s time he converts it into performance.

One also needs to introspect England’s batting, which is quite one-dimensional. They either have accumulators or aggressors. The top-order has all accumulators, which makes it easy for the opposition to formulate plans and execute them well. Stoneman is without a doubt an accumulator but has shown sporadic signs of belligerence and this series at home against Pakistan could be an ideal platform for him to cement his spot.

Stoneman struggles when it comes to rotating the strike. He needs to find a way to get to the other end more often, he looks very rigid. Rotating the strike against the new ball is pivotal, it unsettles the bowler, especially against the new ball. Stoneman also needs to work extremely hard on his conversion rate, which is as of now, very poor. It is criminal at this level to fizzle out after an emphatic start, he failed to convert in the Ashes as well.

In 18 innings so far, Stoneman’s averages just over 30 and his highest score is only 60. He has five half-centuries to his name but not a single ton, which speaks about his inability to convert. As discussed earlier, Test cricket demands daddy hundreds and it is crucial for the top four to garner massive runs. One of the main reasons behind England’s Ashes defeat was the poor form of top four.

Before the start of the Ashes, Trevor Bayliss said, “Sixties aren’t enough. We needs 160s. Batting collapses have been a concern for us for a little while. We have games like that, where we lose wickets like that, and it is a concern. The batsmen have got to do better and they are working hard to do that.”

Let’s introspect Stoneman’s performance so far. He debuted against West Indies. He had a forgettable debut, but scored a fifty to keep himself in contention for the Ashes. He looked promising and selectors decided to invest in him. Stoneman kick-started his Ashes campaign on a high with a tenacious fifty at Brisbane and was expected to find the rhythm as the series progresses, but it wasn’t to be.

Stoneman’s form dipped with every match and managed just another fifty at Perth. Australian selectors gave him a longer rope by drafting him into the side for the New Zealand tour. Stoneman did well there, scoring two fifties and a hard fought 35, but again, there wasn’t any big score. He needs to convert and make the most of his solid starts. In the Ashes, he looked extremely comfortable in some innings, and deserved a century, but didn’t achieve it.

It’s not that Stoneman doesn’t know how to craft a big innings, he does have 21 centuries in First-Class cricket and needs to exhibit similar temperament at this level as well. One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that time is running out on Stoneman and he needs to step up and start scoring daddy hundreds.

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