Now that Alex Hales has bravely ducked out / disgustingly chickened out (delete as appropriate) of the Bangladesh tour, England will need a new test opener in the coming weeks. So who will it be? Rumour has it the selectors are enamoured with young Haseeb Hameed, the nineteen year old from Lancashire. However, because England have a history of passing on young talent – perhaps because Pitt The Younger once wet himself in the Long Room at Lord’s – it’s by no mean a foregone conclusion.
Here’s a list of your runners, riders and dead horses.
Nick Browne, Essex. Age 25. FC average 45. 2016 FC average 50 (div 2)
Young Nick ticks most of the right boxes: he’s at a good age to step up, he knows Alastair Cook well, and he plays for Essex. According to the well-connected Paul Newman, Browne was the man most likely to replace Hales at the start of this summer. Instead he’s had to wait patiently and go about his business – something he’s done very impressively in Essex’s promotion bid.
Pros: Has been very consistent over the last two years and did well in grade cricket down under the winter before last.
Cons: He’s left handed (England might prefer a right-handed foil for Cook) and a career strike-rate of 51 suggests he might not be the attacking option Bayliss prefers.
Nick Gubbins, Middlesex. Age 22. FC average 38. 2016 average 59
Nick ‘Random Paraphernalia’ Gubbins, as his friends don’t call him, has really caught the eye this year and played an integral role in Middlesex’s success. Although his first class record remains modest, he’s catapulted himself into the limelight with some big scores at crucial times. He’s another left-hander, which isn’t ideal, and he isn’t known for quick scoring either, but he has several crucial advantages: he plays for Middlesex, went to public school, and has a chin like Douglas Carswell. Giles Clarke would absolutely love the little darling.
Pros: Young but not too young, in form, big future. Went to Radley (just like Andrew Strauss did). Hmmmm.
Cons: Hasn’t really performed well until this year. Is he an Ed Smith type one season wonder?
Alex Lees, Yorkshire. Age 23, FC average 40, 2016 FC average 45
Long talked about as an future England player, and once compared to Joe Root by Geoff Boycott, our Alex has found life a little tricky of late. Was given the Yorkshire captaincy at a difficult time and it messed with his form. Some argue he’s had trouble adapting his approach to one-day cricket too (although Alastair Cook went through a similar thing). Fortunately however, Lees has finally found some form in recent weeks and might be on the mend. Undoubtedly a class player who will surely play for England one day. But is now the right time?
Pros: If Lees performs well and cements his place, it would nicely sabotage Yorkshire’s title bid for 2017. Knows Paul Farbrace well.
Cons: Once turned down the chance to play for England in the U19 World Cup for very good reasons – a decision which might have been described as “disappointing” by the ECB suits.
Ben Duckett, Northants. Age 22 (in 3 days time), FC average 45, 2016 FC average 63 (div 2)
It’s probably safe to say that Duckett is the most talented man on this list. He’s a cross between Eoin Morgan (when he was young and carefree) and possibly Darren Lehmann. Duckett is the kind of player that empties bars. He’s also shown a temperament for the big occasion: he recently made a double century for England Lions and also shone on T20 Finals Day in the semis. He will certainly be a big star in international limited overs cricket; the question is whether he can dominate test attacks in red ball cricket too.
Pros: A prolific hitter of the ball with a first class strike rate of 73. Bayliss will be salivating. He can also serve as backup wicket-keeper.
Cons: What is it with all these bloody left-handers?
Daniel Bull Drummond, Kent. Age 23, FC average 38, 2016 FC average 60 (div 2)
DBJ, as I like to call him, has been on people’s radars since smashing a glorious century for Kent against the touring Australians last summer. Nobody remembers that he got a duck in the first innings though. Although he’s clearly a talented young lad, and he’s finally shown some consistency in first class cricket this year, there’s just one problem: he’s looked bloody awful every single time I’ve seen him. When he finally plays for England, I suggest I look the other way. I’m obvious a curse.
Pros: A right-hander, at bloody last
Cons: Despite his obvious talent, he’s only really put it together this year; therefore there’s a risk of Ed Smithitis. Failed badly to live up to expectations in the U19 World Cup. Can he perform under pressure?
Haseeb Hameed, Lancashire. Age 19, FC average 51, 2016 FC average 54
Has come from absolutely nowhere to suddenly become flavour of the month. Has only played 18 first class matches, only won his county cap last week, and has just four centuries to his name. Performed brilliantly against Yorkshire in the Roses Match but is that really enough to justify an England call up? If the selectors pick him they’ll have to be bloody sure.
Pros: England never pick 19 year olds, so this is the perfect opportunity for our conservative selectors to show that they can be funky and down-with-the-kids after all.
Cons: Very small sample size. Doesn’t even have a bio on his Cricinfo profile page yet! A strike-rate of just 39 will do Alastair Cook few favours.
Moeen Ali, Worcestershire. Age 29, FC average 3
Yes, promoting Moeen to open with Cook is a ridiculous idea. But that didn’t stop them from doing it last time, did it?! I can just hear Whitaker justifying the decision now: “last time we were in that part of the world, well, I mean in Dubai anyway, we performed relatively well in losing the series 0-2. Mo was a big part of that relative disappointment. One of the cornerstones of our policy over the years has been to show consistency and to reward players for good performances. Mo batted very well this summer at No.8 and No.7 so he clearly deserves his promotion. And the fact we’ve done this before shows consistency …. Oh hang on a sec, my phone’s buzzing ….”
Pros: None whatsoever
Cons: Where do I start?
Chris Tavare, Somerset. Age 61, FC average 39
Because opening the innings is the often the best time to bat in the subcontinent, who better to exploit the gaping holes in the field, and enjoy the hard ball fizzing onto the bat, than England’s best ever batsman, Chris Tavare. With Bayliss looking for an attacking opener to complement the skipper, Tavare ticks just about every single box. He’s a (very) experienced campaigner, exceeding modern in his approach, and will surely bring the crowds flocking back to test cricket with his sensational strike-rate of 300. Or was it 30?
Pros: Alex Massie once wrote that, for Tavaré, scoring runs seemed “a disagreeable, even vulgar” exercise. This means he’ll fit right in. Could be the ideal like-for-like replacement for Hales (or even Vince).
Cons: The biology department at Sevenoaks School would surely suffer if Tavare donned his whites and temporarily gave up teaching. As I’m writing this approximately one hundred yards from his classroom, perhaps I shouldn’t take the piss so liberally.
PS Apologies to Sam Robson. I completely forgot you. That in itself probably says a lot. I should also apologise to Keaton Jennings. I didn’t realise he’d committed 100% to England. Got some duff info.