“It is high time for them to get their mess sorted at the top-three. To be a consistent Test team in both home and away, skipper Root along with coach Trevor Bayliss needs to find a permanent solution of this conundrum. Makeshift options won’t work for long”
A different country, different condition, different opposition – yet the struggle of England’s top-order, which was evident during the last Ashes as well as in the recently concluded home season, continues in red-ball cricket. At Galle, in the very first Test match of the post-Alastair Cook era, Keaton Jennings came out to open the innings alongside debutant Surrey boy Rory Burns. The stage was set for the duo to stamp their authority on the proceedings. And Burns started with a few nicely timed boundaries to get the ball rolling. But unfortunately, the spark did not last long.
A scratchy top-order has been a headache for the England team management for a while now. Cook, towards the end of his career, became inconsistent and from the other end, there were not enough runs were being scored. In their five-match home series against India, they had just two half-century opening stands. And Jennings, who is England’s first choice Test opener in Sri Lanka right now, couldn’t get past the 50-run mark even once in the series. Still, the team management believes he is the best available opener in the country. This shows the amount of vulnerability in England’s top-order batting.
However, at Galle, Burns can be considered unlucky as he was caught down the leg side in his debut innings. Whereas Jennings, his opening partner, was playing as well as he has done since recalled last summer, undid his good work while batting at 46 by trying to cut a ball from Dilruwan Perera that hit his leg-stump.
Well, certainly there is potential in this new English opening pair and we should perhaps give them some time to settle down at this level.
Can England afford to continue with a makeshift No. 3?
Nevertheless, not only in the opening slot, England are currently confused about their No. 3 as well. Their present choice Mooen Ali, seems like a decent option on slow-low, spin-friendly pitches. However, on tracks, which have more bite for the fast bowlers, Moeen’s technique is bound to get exposed.
Ideally, Joe Root should take responsibility at that crucial position in the batting order, but is a well-known fact that the England skipper doesn’t feel comfortable batting there. Also, England have too many all-rounders to accommodate in the XI. Hence, the think-tank has persisted with Moeen at Galle, but he too had a poor start of the red-ball leg of the tour, getting castled by Suranga Lakmal in the very first ball of his innings.
After winning, what was considered a crucial toss, England were tottering at 10 for 2 after the first 16 balls of the Test match. It was not what the doctor ordered for the visitors. At Lunch, they were 113 for 5 and it was once again the resistance of the lower middle-order led by debutant wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Foakes and the crisis man Sam Curran, which bailed England out at Stump on Day 1.
Well, isn’t it quite often in the recent past that we have seen England’s lower-order batting taking the team out of a hole?
It is high time for them to get their mess sorted at the top-three. To be a consistent Test team in both home and away, skipper Root along with coach Trevor Bayliss needs to find a permanent solution of this conundrum. Makeshift options won’t work for long.
Interestingly, even a week ago Joe Denly, a much-equipped batsman, seemed to be the most likely option to bat at three. But he failed to impress during the warm-up games and perhaps it prompted the team management to go ahead with the Moeen experiment.
In a recent column at ESPNCricinfo Mark Nicholas has come up with a suggestion playing Ben Stokes at 3, which actually makes a lot of sense. Stokes is undoubtedly England’s best batsman after Root. He has the technique to survive against the new or semi-new ball. So, if Stokes himself is up for it, the England think-tank can certainly go ahead with the experiment.
Well, whether it is Stokes, Denly, Root of anyone else – in the long run, if England want stability from their top-order, they have to appoint a proper batsman to take charge at that crucial position.