With partners changing by series, Alastair Cook and England are in danger of seeking out a new opener in time for the fourth Test after their batting cane a cropper in the loss at Nottingham. With 13 partners since the retirement of Andrew Strauss six years ago, England have dug deep to unearth the right partner to the composed legend at the top. None of them have fit the bill so far and though options aren’t truly scarce, the hosts are faced with a dilemma of whether to stick to Jennings or look elsewhere.
Cook himself is in patchy form and there are chances of him missing out altogether for the fourth Test. Either way, the selectors would be weighing their options before the Southampton Test and here we look to identify who is in with a chance.
A sturdy left-hand batsman and for long touted as a worthy replacement for Andrew Strauss, Burns hasn’t yet made the cut to the Test team, which is a tad surprising considering the scarcity of options. At 28, he is pretty experienced and as captain of Surrey, Burns is believed to be a frontrunner for the job. He was called up to the Lions squad last month alongside Ollie Pope, with the latter making an entry into the national team. Burns isn’t far off given the sheer bulk of runs he is manufacturing.
Burns is the highest run-scorer this year in the Championships, with 951 runs in 9 matches at 67.92 including three hundreds. He has 14 hundreds overall in First-class cricket and with him being in form, England may not need to look elsewhere.
A no.3 at the Lions team, 24-year-old Gubbins made a name after his spectacular run for Middlesex in 2016, a deciding factor in their Championship triumph. Compact and steady, Gubbins elevation to the Lions side was a given. He has hit good form and boasts of an ability to weather out tough conditions and bowlers. Despite an average of 36.33 in First-class cricket not going his way, Gubbins recent form should entice the selectors.
His selection ahead of Burns might become a controversy although potential-wise the southpaw has the talent to bury the ruckus.
An unlikely partner, a tried opener and a limited-overs specialist, Hales is as out-of-the-box a selection as they come. He has been tried before and is one among Cook’s 13 men but Hales strength is his positivity at the wicket. With Cook and Jennings both left-handed, sedate openers, Indian seamers and Ashwin have found a way to dominate the early half of games. This has proved to be detrimental even to Root who often comes in with the added pressure of putting runs on the board more steadily.
Hales, despite his familiar woes outside the off-stump, is someone capable of taking the attack to the opposition. With a handsome drive and ability to stand tall and punch the ball either side of the wicket, Hales is in every way aligned to Ed Smith’s tastes. Like the Rashid and Buttler controversies, Hales’ selection should spark a few debates but given the tough situation England find themselves in, they can’t be blamed in trying someone who is familiar to the demands and environment.
An unlikely opener, Vince is a stable no.3 and not an opener. But with options running out and Vince in deadly form, England might just be tempted to trust his stroke play at the top of the order particularly since Indians prefer bowling a fullish length, something Vince thrives on. The right-hander has often been criticised for throwing his starts away and has had several chances in the Test side, most recently in the Ashes earlier this year. His County form for Hampshire, though, has been scintillating, which could tilt the balance in his favour. With 847 runs in 9 matches, he is second behind Burns in terms of runs.
An average of 56.46 with three hundreds and two half-centuries furthers his case and Vince could just be a beneficiary of lack of suitable candidates. Stylish and elegant when on fire, Vince can disrupt the nagging lengths Indian seamers have managed to hit early in the innings. An off-beat choice, an unlikely choice, but he could just prove his detractors wrong this time around.