England’s Test match cricket team have been finding it difficult to pull up trees of late. One particular Root, that of the Joe variety, continues to aid rather than hinder the collective cause, but even he’s not immune to criticism anymore.
If Joe was merely at batsman, then he’d probably be the only man in the current XI that enjoys universal approval. He is, after all, fourth in the ICC’s Test batting rankings and the only specialist batsman in the side that the opposition actually respects. However, because he’s still captain of what appears to be a sinking ship, he’s probably under as much pressure to turn things around as anyone.
As it is, fingers are being pointed in all directions when it comes to our red ball travails. While we’re 7/2 third-favourites for 2022 T20 World Cup if you’re betting on cricket with Betfair, you won’t find a single soul – probably not even Root’s own family – backing England to beat New Zealand in the first major Test series of the summer. The free cricket betting tips tell the same story.
Whilst the bowling isn’t exactly stellar, especially considering the self-inflicted absence of a certain Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the main problem is obviously the batting. We’ve shuffled our deck more times than Vegas dealer. But thus far nobody, especially at the top of the order, has stuck.
Although England have options in the middle-order, where Jonny Bairstow is finally starting to perform again, and Ollie Pope surely has a long-term future once he rediscovers his mojo, it’s hard to see any viable options whatsoever in the opening berths. So where will the (yet to be appointed) selectors and head coach, with Root still heavily involved, turn to get this faulty engine running again?
Top jobs, tall orders
All too often, England have been left chasing their metaphorical tail after stumbling out of the blocks. The result? The literal tail has been exposed in not much more than a session. I use to moan about Alastair Cook struggling against top class seam bowling attacks, but the current incumbents seem to struggle against anything and everything. Oh what I’d do for two openers as competent as Cook and Andrew Strauss these days. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
So where do England turn if the likes of Haseeb Hameed, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley have been proved wanting? Keep recycling them until something better comes along? I really don’t know.
Personally, I’d probably recall Burns in the short term. Yes he struggled in Australia. Which recent England openers haven’t? But at least he’s scored runs against Australia and other teams at home. In fact, he’s made two Test hundreds in England. That’s not terrible.
Root plundered 1,708 Test runs in 2021. And do you know who was second on the run-scoring list? It was Burns. Although he managed only 530 runs and registered six ducks across 19 innings, he did average over 40. That’s notably better than the other usual suspects. I’m not saying that Burns is a long term bet, but clearly beggars can’t be choosers.
The other player I’d persevere with – although I admit that he really needs to tighten up his game – is Zak Crawley. But personally I wouldn’t open with him. I prefer Zak at 3. After all, I’m not convinced that the skipper’s best position is suddenly first drop on the evidence of two hundreds on Caribbean featherbeds. Those who remember the Test career of Ravi Bopara might agree.
Sadly, therefore, this still leaves one vacancy in the opening slots. We’ve got Burns and, erm, who, exactly? That’s the million-dollar question. Some would like to see journeyman Jake Libby get a go after a prolific 2021. But is a 29-year old who averages 35 after 132 first class innings really the answer?
Others would like to see a likely lad like Tom Haines thrown in the deep end. Hmmm. He’s 23 and only just finding his feet as the new captain of Sussex, which isn’t the easiest job on the circuit. Is now really the time to promote him, especially as his record is still pretty modest, too.
England’s other option is to do what I call a Shane Watson – in other words, promote someone who’s scored runs at international level elsewhere in the order a chance. But who, exactly, fits this particular bill. Dawid Malan (no thanks)? James Vince (maybe)? Chis Tavare (eh)? Iftikhar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi (he couldn’t do much worse than the incumbents)? It’s just so, so difficult.
No wonder there have been so few applicants for the top job in English cricket. It’s mission impossible working at an organisation that’s generally impossible. None of the best cricket minds will touch the managing director role with a bargepole.
That’s one of the reasons why Rob Key is currently the favourite. He’s affable, inoffensive, rarely possesses strong opinions, he’s pro-Hundred, and he already has a close relationship with the ECB’s strategic broadcasting partner. In other words, he ticks all the ECB’s most important boxes.
But will our chum Rob actually be any good? I have no idea. And that’s probably not the main criterion (as far as the ECB are concerned). What I do know, however, is that Key used to open the batting. So perhaps there’s a job for him one way or another.