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.