Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Who will be England’s next test match opening pair?

Posted on 29 March 2019 by Edd Oliver

James Vince has thrown his hat into the ring as England’s test side continue their seemingly endless search for a reliable opening pair.  With England’s numbers four to seven of Root, Buttler, Stokes and Bairstow all certain to be picked, barring injury, Vince has discussed with Joe Root and national selector Ed Smith his best chance of getting back into the team.

“We spoke a couple of weeks ago and the feedback I got was they prefer moving people down the order rather than up,” said Vince.  “So by opening the batting here (for Hampshire) I give myself the best chance of putting my name forward.”

Vince has had a stop-start test career that has flattered to deceive.  With a technique that is easy on the eye he had commentators purring about his ‘Michael Vaughan-like’ cover drive, but also developed a trademark habit of getting to 30, flashing at a wide half-volley and being caught in the slips.  

However with England’s options limited and both current openers under pressure, early season County Championship runs could earn Vince a third crack at test cricket, despite an underwhelming average of 24.90 from 13 tests with just three fifties from 22 innings, and no hundreds. 

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James Vince made a half-century in his last test, in Christchurch in April 2018

Since Andrew Strauss retired in August 2012, England have tried some 14 different opening combinations, with Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns the current incumbents.

Jennings started the winter with an unbeaten 146 at Galle as England won the first test, but followed that with 41 runs from his final four innings in Sri Lanka, and was dropped after the first test in West Indies, before being promptly recalled in almost farcical circumstances for the final test of the three match series.

A dreadfully out of nick Jennings scraped together 62 runs from four knocks in the Caribbean at an average of 15.5 and at a tortuous strike-rate of 23.84.  With an awkward technique that has proven proficient against spin but very weak against test match seam and swing bowling, for Jennings’s own sake as much as England’s he should be left out this Summer.

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Keaton Jennings endured a torrid time with the bat in the West Indies

Burns meanwhile looked good for much of England’s winter, but failed to go on and convert a number of promising starts into the test century that would have secured his spot for the foreseeable future. With an average of 25 from six tests, his place in the XI for the Ireland test which precedes the Ashes is by no means guaranteed.

Joe Denly made his test debut in the Caribbean at the age of 32, and having made his bow as an opener, moved down to number 3 and scored 69 in his second test as England won in St.Lucia.  That should probably see him fill the number three spot for the Ireland test at Lord’s.

Another candidate for an opening slot is Nick Gubbins of Middlesex, who could break into the reckoning with a prolific start to the season, and there is also forgotten man Haseeb Hameed, who looked at home in his initial forays in test cricket back in 2016. 

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Will Jason Roy swap his Surrey whites for those of England’s test side this summer?

Hameed suffered a finger injury in his third test and lost his place to Jennings, and followed that with an average 2017 and a truly dreadful 2018, averaging just 9.71 from 17 county championship innings for Lancashire.

Many pundits have called for Jason Roy, a star of the ODI and T20I side as an opening batsman, to be given a crack at opening the batting at test level.  He’ll need to make the move up the order for Surrey first, where he is more accustomed to batting at number 3. 

There is perhaps even a chance that Alastair Cook might make a comeback, as the man himself and his Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate have both recently hinted at.

Whoever ends up opening for England versus Ireland and then in the Ashes, you might get good odds on Brexit being sorted out before England’s test match side finally has a settled long-term opening partnership, for the first time since Cook and Strauss. 

Featured Image: Wikicommons.