Opening Arguments: Irreverent Thoughts On Who Might Open With Cook This Winter

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.

James Morgan

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.


    • And he never ducked a challenge (so different to dear Sir Geoffrey). 203 against Roberts, Holding and Daniel in his 1976 comeback test and possibly the greatest test saving innings of all time against the Windies in 73/74. No skulking off at the first sight of real pace for Amiss.

      • I was a big Amiss fan too Andy (his 203 is one of my earliest cricketing memories) but you can praise him without the needless dig at Boycott. Boycott didn’t drop out of Tests in 1974 because he was ducking out of real pace. Nobody could possibly have known the Aussies would discover Thomo in ’74/75 and the West Indies discover Holding in ’76.

        When he came back after 1977, Boycott faced the great West Indies’ attack in two series aged nearly 40 and averaged over 40 in both them. He also played against Thomo, Pascoe, Hogg, Lawson, Marshall and Hadlee in his later years.

        • You are right. I am afraid my view of Boycott has been unhinged ever since he claimed Woakes was a medium pacer who his mother could play just after the Sky speed gun had clocked him at 87 mph!

  • The fact David Steel isn’t on this list is terrible :P

    Good piece in all seriousness. Personally I would take Duckett AND Hameed. Could play Duckett middle order and Hameed open.

    Personally I think the middle order is more concerning. No standouts if we want to replace Ballance/Vince. And no Ian Bell does not count. I would take Sam Northeast for at least a squad place if not to play in middle order

  • Err… Keaton Jennings. The stand-out opener this season in Division 1 this year. I know it’s sometimes hard to accept South African-born Englishmen are the best option, but in this instance, he’s certainly more worthy of consideration than some of the (serious) options up there such as Alex Lees (and I say that as a Yorkshire fan). I hope England take both Hameed and Jennings, anyway.

    • Apparently Jennings wants to try and qualify for England on residency but I saw Bumble write on Twitter that he hasn’t served his time yet.

      • My mistake. Apparently he IS qualified. Well bugger me. Here’s a synopsis then:

        PROS: Leading opener in div 1 this season
        CONS: Ginger

        Will that do ok?

        • Thank you. That covers most things nicely. You missed out that he’s the only county cricketer who’s middle name is that of another county, however.

        • Jennings has had an incredible season – with over 1500 FC runs and 7 hundreds he’s been carrying Durham’s batting practically on his own, and his 88 in the T20 final shows that he can adapt his game to the white ball formats. His career FC average remains modest, but that’s probably down to playing half his games at Riverside. The only downside I can see of picking him is Durham need him more!

          A left/right combination would be nice but I wouldn’t make that the main deciding factor – two left handers (Tres/Strauss and Strauss/Cook) served us well for a long time. We need to go back to picking proper Test openers and stop trying to copy Warner – we made much the same mistake with some good keeper/batsmen by making them open in ODI cricket in an attempt to find a Gilchrist.

  • I think you’re missing a trick, James. Surely with Hales and Morgan missing from the ODI team, there’s an opening in the limited overs squad too for a player with Chris Tavare’s eh… “unique” approach to pacing an innings and building a platform?

  • Always thought Mark Lathwell deserved another shot…

    Let’s face it, they’re all pretty inadequate but whoever is picked will probably do ok because it’s Bangladesh. He’ll then have a stinker in India and suddenly we’ll all think that Alex Hales is a much better Test opener than we do at the moment.

    If a bit of silliness is the order of the day, I stumbled across a picture of Craig White with the most magnificent “mullet” that I’d never seen earlier today (see halfway down this page As good as Chris Waddle’s in my view. Anyone got any better?

  • Ramprakash in a Guardian interview yesterday stated that Hameed, Jennings, Robson and Gubbins were “next off the rank”. I haven’t seen one journo who has an ECB inside track write anything other than they’re going to pick Hameed (they also seem unanimous that Dawson will be going as the third spinner – and the only issue is whether they’ll take Batty as a fourth).

  • If you’re going to blood youngsters, a series against Bangladesh is the time. Hameed and Duckett in for me.

  • Jennings has been the stand out batsman this year in Championship cricket. If he doesn’t get picked he would walk into the saffa team.

    Hameed is a certainty.

    Duckett should take Ballance’s place

    • “he would walk into the saffa team”.

      Under the transformation agenda, the Saffers are required to field an average of six non-white players a match. Bearing in mind they have ABDV, Steyn, Morkel and QDK as certs, that leaves the rest fighting over one place. Would Jennings “walk” in ahead of FDP or Stephen Cook (to name two)?

  • Solve two problems in one move. Take Sam Billings and get him to open and keep wicket a la Alec Stewart. The naysayers will say he is a white ball cricketer but he has opened in the Championship, is improving all the time and (having seen him bat several times in red ball) he has the technique required of a test bat (unlike other ODI/T20 players such as Buttler and Hales). It is a huge shame (and a condemnation of their narrow views) that the selectors seem to see him as a T20 specialist.

  • Lots of people arguing in favour of Hameed but I wonder how many of them (the media that is) have actually seen him play? I haven’t myself so I’m reserving judgement until I do. Personally I’m not sure whether he’s going to be a goof foil for Cook looking at that strike rate. I’m not saying strike rate is necessarily important for a test opener but one does have to consider what the ‘opening partnership’ will be like as a whole. Nick Compton was a dreadful foil for Cook for precisely that reason. And no I don’t think Cook has suddenly metamorphosed into a positive opener on the back of the Pakistan series when they bowled very badly at him and fed his cut shot like there was no tomorrow. That is the main reason why Cook scored much more quickly than he has in the rest of his career.

    As I said in my piece, if you’re going to pick a 19 year old ahead of candidates who have produced over a longer period of time, you’ve got to be 100% sure that he’s made of the right stuff. This includes a full brief on his character etc.

    I really hope people haven’t become enamoured with ‘the idea’ of this mystical 19 year old rather than the actual substance of who or what he is. He’d be the youngest guy to play for England in decades. Is he really the best young prospect to emerge in this country for years? Really? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I hope his selection isn’t funky for the sake of being funky.

    • Cook’s best form as an opener generally came alongside Strauss (with Trott at three). Neither of them were exactly biffers of the ball. My solution would be to completely disregard what David Warner does for Australia (generally only in Australia, too) and pick the best opener we can. If he’s on 18 not out after the opening 15 overs then so be it. The openers should build a foundation for what is to come: i.e. Root, Bairstow, Ali, Stokes, Woakes, and potentially Buttler and Duckett. Scoring at five an over while the ball is still shiny isn’t important.

    • Some good points here, but the one thing I’d say is that part of the clamour for these promising youngsters is that the experienced options don’t look so rosy or clear cut.

      Ultimately you have to weigh up the pros and cons of all the options and take who you think is likely to do the best job in the short and medium term. That may legitimately be someone with less experience.

      • I think it’s hard to justify Hameed’s selection (if indeed he does get the nod) over someone like Duckett who is young, has scored plenty of runs in all formats (albeit in Div 2, not his fault), and who significantly has done very well with the Lions. It would have to be some player to bypass the Lions system altogether. England are very fond of their system.

  • He would be the youngest since Ben Hollioake in 1997 (he would be just a few days older by the time of the first test in Bangladesh).

    For me the best argument in favour of Hameed is his strike rate. To score 1400 runs at 51 and a strike rate of 39 indicates a serious technique suited to red ball cricket. And I am afraid that Cook must assume the position of senior partner with whoever is his new colleague, and – if needed – take responsibility for upping the tempo. That is a responsibility that comes with over 100 tests. I would take Hameed (especially as I do not see any other compelling cases) but also, as suggested above, take Billings and consider asking him to do a Stewart. With both of them we have all bases covered (including a decent keeper and, in Billings, someone who has and can bat anywhere from 1 to 7).

    If Bangladesh is not the right place to experiment then I cannot think we will ever be bold!

    • I didn’t realise that Hollioake played a test (he actually played two). I always remember him for ‘that’ ODI innings at Lord’s. You’re quite right to bring him up. Surely the only teenager we’ve picked in the modern era. I think Jimmy Anderson was 20?

      • Five teenagers have won Test caps for England – Close, Crawford (back in 1905/06), Compton and Peebles in addition to Ben Hollioake.

        Liam Plunkett was younger than Anderson when he made his debut in 2005/06 by 59 days. Other recent-ish players who were under 21 when they made their Test debut are Dilley, Gatting, Flintoff, De Freitas, Read and Finn.

        • I seem to recall that I read recently that Chris Read is about to join the 1000 club (for FC catches). Imagine what we might have done in the last 15 years if we had picked a proper keeper like Read.

      • Pretty sure he made his Test debut with his brother. Then, true to form of the time, we dropped him…

        Whether he’d have had a great Test career is questionable, but he’d have made millions in 20-20. Such a shame.

  • Very unfair on Chris Tavaré – whilst he played the sheet anchor role for England (perhaps too well), anyone who saw him play one day cricket for Kent in his prime knows he could – and did – play spectacular attacking innings. I can’t help thinking had he been 30 eyars younger he would have been an excellent T20 player.


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