Sam Robson: Hope Springs Eternal

Today, Rob Stephenson wonders whether the solution to England’s opening woes has been under our noses, plying his trade as a county stalwart, for years.

England have tried an awful lot of openers since Andrew Strauss and then Alastair Cook retired. Most of them are pretty good red ball players at county level. The odd bolter was not – step forward Alex Hales and Jason Roy.

Another player mentioned for a possible recall (before the squad was officially announced) was Sam Robson. I do have memories of him looking a reasonable player technicially back in 2014, when he was selected as one of the bright young things after the Ashes debacle of 2013-14. At least we got rid of KP in that first squad, which from memory included Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Gary Ballance. Only Moeen went on to a moderately successful test career.

A lot of openers have been and gone since then. Off the top of my head Messers Lyth, Hales, Roy, Stoneman, Burns, Sibley, Hameed, Crawley now and Lees have all been tried. Most looked reasonable players in patches without having the consistency to nail down a permanent place. Are any of them, however, worthy of a second look?

This conveyer belt raises a number of issues. While it is a standard criticism to say England’s current batting malaise is due to technical weaknesses, some of the above are pretty orthodox in technique. Sam Robson, who has two hundreds so far this season, is an unflamboyant but reasonably solid looking player, and who knows at 32 he might have improved into a Test class opener. Keaton Jennings had also been in sublime form for Lancs. Most of the other players mentioned have produced some high class innings for their county sides, enough to merit the selectors’ attention in the first place.

We come back, therefore, to the crux of the article. Who, if anyone, has improved since their first stint to merit a recall? We have been through so many opening permutations that it almost seems like a throwing darts at a board type scenario. To be honest, I would be happy with any opener who can average 35 at the current time and cope with a slightly moving ball. After our travails against Scott Boland and Karl Mayers, however, this seems to be asking quite a lot.

We have a new coach and captain who seem likely to want to play attacking cricket, where any suggestion of red ball solidity is likely to be thought of as out of vogue. The issue is that being a good county opener has proved to be of limited value in recent years against the higher quality Test attacks. The revolving door of openers seems to imply no one of clear Test class has emerged at county level for a number of years. All of those tried seem to be much of a muchness, barely averaging 30 if that.

If Sam Robson at 32 can come again and become a decent Test player then good luck to him. Maybe he deserves another try? Maybe a selectorial punt will finally pay off? We have been waiting for long enough.

Rob Stephenson


  • Completely agree. Robson has a huge claim for selection. Not only is he in fine form this year, he’s averaged 40 since 2019, which in an era of struggling openers must count for something! Solid technique and scores runs at a good rate. My worry is that England have stopped picking players on form and have instead identified and invested in players they “feel”/ “hope” could develop into a good Test player. If they were being pragmatic, Robson would definitely be in the conversation.

  • Openers are a big problem at the moment. I have a much longer list of ones I wouldn’t have – headed by Burns, Sibley, and Crawley – than ones I would. We are going through a period of a dearth of talent in the batting department, possibly for reasons much discussed on this site.
    I’m hoping that Hameed might be regaining his early confidence and promise. I haven’t seen this new Compton play, but his stats this season have been impressive.

  • There is more to McCullum’s approach to Test Cricet than he gets credit for, he is *not* all about the bash and if you look at the NZ team when he was in charge, it’s a nonsense to say “any suggestion of red ball solidity is likely to be thought of as out of vogue.”

    Latham, Williamson, Nicholls, Watling aren’t all about solidity and occupying the crease? Please.

    Occupying the crease hasn’t exactly been the fashion for the England Test team in recent years anyway ;)

    This is what the man himself says:

    “ At times I haven’t had the shot selection that I’ve been able to operate with lately. That probably comes off the back of having a lot more trust in my defence as well. *If you know that your defence is capable and you’re able to bat for a period of time, then your attacking game can unfold, rather than to just attack because you don’t have any trust in your defence.*”

  • Does he have more personality in the field now? (Readers of the 2014 Mike Selvey will get the reference). Haven’t his runs mainly been scored in D2? If any Middlesex player deserves a call-up I’d be looking at TRJ.

    More generally, England haven’t been keen on recalling players who were arguably picked too early initially. James Foster and Rikki Clarke are two that come to mind.

  • The only recent England opener who looked capable of surviving any length of time and having the game to go on and make a score was Burns. He’s had a decent run and has produced some decent performances. He understands his own game, including the concept of survival early on and has the temperament to increase his run rate without resorting to white ball batting. The best openers are all accumulators, not stroke players. The rest of the bunch all look at sea trying to build an innings. It’s all about combining technique and temperament, no more no less. Burns to me has this balance to a greater degree than any other opener I’ve seen since Cook. I’d also like to see more of Hamid as for me he has the potential. Messing about with his technique didn’t help his Ashes campaign. He had a nice defensive technique even though he played with low hands. Some if his shots square on the offside were reminiscent of Boycott, but he got bogged down by the accurate Aussie seam attack on their bouncier pitches, like most of our batsmen. No reason to dump him as a failure. If you’re going to persevere with the likes of Pope and Crawley why not Hameed.

    • Burns test record is astonishingly bad for a player with so many appearances. Worst of all time?

      Not saying he is the worst player of all time but has any other England test batsman with an average around 30 played as many tests. Usually anyone with a record that weak would have been discarded. I can’t remember anyone else with so many games and such a poor record.

      Re Robson. The problem is the limited upside. If you finally strike it lucky then you have a 32 year old. We need long term answers. Not violently objecting to him being given another go but he needs to be off the shelf test standard. A younger player with more of a future, its worth persevering with to build up their experience.

      • The reason the others were discarded without so many games could well be that they weren’t considered persevering with, whereas Burns was. I certainly have more faith in him seeing off the new ball than most recent tryouts at the top of the order, and he knows his. There’s more to an openers purpose than stats, especially when alternatives are so thin on the ground.

  • He’s not in the T20 team so doesn’t stand a chance.

    Seriously, someone needs to tell McCullum that this isn’t NZ he’s been put in charge of. Pope isn’t Williamson. His players will have to play many more games but he also has a wider pool of players to choose from. There’s a reason why the red and white balls were increasingly separated.

    It would be amusing if the FCCC beat NZ and then the test team loses. Especially with someone like Jamie ‘Not Fast Enough for Test Cricket’ Porter is the hero.


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