England’s headache regarding the opening slot continues….
A Test unit is a well-oiled machine, with each fragment of the playing eleven holding their own importance in the overall performance of the team. A consistent failure of one or more roles for a long period of time not only hampers a team’s progress but also exhibits a few chunks to the rivals, who can then take advantage of the flaws to further annihilate the side.
The England cricket team has been one of the most successful Test squads in the cricketing history but ever since the retirement of Andrew Strauss, the English have struggled to string together a well-set opening duo. While Alastair Cook has been the permanent fixture since then, he has often had to bear the responsibility of a faulty opening partner, which not only increases the pressure on him but also on the middle order.
Since Strauss departed, 13 players have been tried at the top of the order in 75 games. Only 5 players have scored a century in this interim, with Nick Compton scoring two. The issues are manifold abroad, where 9 players have been tried to open with Cook. Of the 9, only two players have scored a hundred – Compton with two and Keaton Jennings with one in 2016 against India in Mumbai.
The first player to be tried for this spot was Compton, who started off on a high with back-to-back hundreds against New Zealand. However, he was never able to cross 20 again and was dropped just before the 2013 Ashes, where Joe Root was given the honours of partnering Cook. However, the youngster was just finding his feet in international cricket then and after a string of below-par shows, he was dropped after the end of the Ashes.
That paved the way for Michael Carberry who was rather unfortunate to play only 6 Tests. 5 of the six matches was against a rampaging Australian side who had Mitchell Johnson in their ranks. Despite not having many runs against his name, he impressed with his maturity and faced the most number of balls by an English player in the Ashes. He was also the second-highest run-scorer on the tour but the selectors thought it best to drop him after the series.
Youngster Sam Robson gave off positive vibes with a century in his second Test but a number of technical issues around the off-stump put a premature end to the cricketer’s career who had represented Australia in the Under-19s.
Jonathan Trott hardly impressed in his comeback and while Adam Lyth scored a hundred at Headingley in 2015 in his second Test, he was unable to score 40 again and he was dropped soon after.
The likes of Moeen Ali (pushed to open to accommodate a spinner from number 8), Alex Hales, Ben Duckett, and even Jos Buttler all failed to average more than 25 in their opening stints, with Haseeb Hameed crossing 32. Of the lot, he looked the most assured as he led England to a draw in Vishakapatnam and with a plethora of shots coupled with technique and temperament, Hameed was here to stay. He scored 82 at number 8 with a broken finger and it is a huge surprise that the player has not been able to play more than 3 Tests to date.
The recent promotion of Mark Stoneman too has hardly been inspiring as well. In 19 innings, he has scored only 517 runs, with a high-score of 60. He averages 28.72 in the format. In the first innings against Pakistan, he lasted only 12 balls, falling to the seam and swing of Mohammad Abbas.
The 30-year-old had two fifties in the 2017 Ashes and two more in the tour of New Zealand but without age on his side and with just a high-score of 29 in his seven outings for Surrey in the County Championship before the Test series, Stoneman will be aware that he is extremely lucky to be in the side.
Firstly, he did score 60 in his previous Test innings against the Kiwis which forced Ed Smith to give him another shot. However, the more serious and the rather unfortunate news is that the England team are at a lack of world-class opening options, and with Cook in not such a great form either, the risk of pushing a newbie into the fold was one that Smith and Co. did not want to take ahead of a crucial summer. Middlesex’s Nick Gubbins is a possible choice but he is poor against the spin and with both Pakistan and India being spin-heavy, Gubbins’inclusion was going to be a gamble.
Surrey’s Rory Burns is a possible replacement but he still needs a season or two to have his advocates. Jennings too impressed head coach Trevor Bayliss but with Root keen on retaining Stoneman, the decision was made. However, yet another failure to seize upon the opportunity has meant that a failure in the next three innings will effectively put an end to Stoneman’s Test career. With a poor bench strength, the English team is struggling and before India come touring, it is imperative to find a strong player to play with Cook at the top.