Since Andrew Strauss’ retirement from the Test side, England found some ray of hope in Nick Compton as a reliable opener who can accompany Alastair Cook at the top. Though Compton gave steady support to Cook at the top, his bare run column saw him come under the axe. Since then, England have experimented with many players like Jonathan Trott, Michael Carberry, Joe Root, Sam Robson and Adam Lyth but none so far have been able to recreate the Strauss-Cook magic. Suraj Choudhari writes about England’s dearth of opening batsmen which have hurt them in getting a solid start in the recent times.

For any side to be among the best, what’s important is having a pair of quality opening batsmen. A side that has boasted the likes of WG Grace, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Geoffrey Boycott, John Edrich and Graham Gooch among many others in the past is currently struggling to find the right partner for their skipper Cook.

In fact, it has been an area of concern for England since Strauss’ retirement. Over the years, England have heavily relied on their openers to get runs consistently as Cook and Strauss hold the record for the third successful partnership by openers in Test cricket. At the crease together, the duo have amassed 4711 runs in 117 innings.

Designed by Srushti Takale
Designed by Srushti Takale

The primary role of an opening pair across any format is to provide their team with a good start. But in Test it’s more than just that, early on in the innings the hardness and shine of the ball favours the bowlers so it becomes very crucial for the openers to spend more time at the crease against the new ball and also wear out the bowlers.

In the last few years, England have tried out a couple of openers without much success and it has only added pressure on Cook, whose own form had reached a plateau of sorts during the previous Ashes. In the ongoing series, Cook’s partner Adam Lyth has managed 50 runs from four innings. An early kill affects the mentality of the whole batting line-up but a solid start at the same time can boost the team’s confidence. Lyth has looked tentative and his lack of temperament added to his inability to let go the wide deliveries have hurt England. Cook more often had to do the repair job. In last four England innings in the ongoing Ashes, the highest opening stand recorded by them was just 17. Although their middle-order bailed them out in the first Test but one just can’t expect the same performance on a consistent basis.

In the past, Cook and Compton shared the best opening stand while opening the batting. Together they averaged 57.93 in the 17 innings in which they opened the batting. Compton’s inconsistency led to his exclusion but since then began England’s opening woes and Cook is still on a lookout for a dependable partner. There were experiments done with Root and Trott, but that too didn’t work out.

The top-order looks doomed with Lyth not scoring, Gary Ballance struggling at No.3 and Ian Bell going through the worst phase of his career adds to the miseries. Cook has been in a reasonable touch but the pressure isn’t helping him and eventually a lot of load is falling upon the young Root. There’s a solution by promoting Root to No.3 but that doesn’t yet solves the opening problem.

It’s mandatory for England to find an effective opener who can accompany Cook at the top because once he gets going he can take on any bowling attack and is well capable of playing those big match- winning innings. It’s high time for England to reconsider some of their decisions.

 

 

(Suraj Choudharian avid cricket follower who plays the sport at club level, is a staffer with Criclife)

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