The problem England have is not going to be solved by dropping people – if the replacements aren’t much better. They’ve already shown with Moeen, that sometimes picking modesty can work out well, if you know their limits – and stick with them for a while.
Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, England have tried to fill his enormous void with a number of modest replacements.
Of course, external issues have played their part on the side’s performance, but nobody can escape the inexcusable roundabout that has been in full swing at the top of the order.
In order, these replacements were Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, and the most recent spare part; Adam Lyth.
All were picked on perfectly good merit. They are all fantastic batsmen, churning out hundreds, and occasionally thousands of runs a year. They were inignorable.
So far this is how they’ve turned out opening the batting for England:
- Nick Compton – Tests: 9, Runs: 479, Hundreds: 2, Fifties: 1 – Average: 31.93
- Joe Root: Tests: 5 Runs: 339, Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1 – Average: 37.66.
- Michael Carberry: Tests: 6 , Runs: 345, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 1 – Average: 28.75
- Sam Robson: Tests: 6 , Runs: 336 , Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1 – Average: 30.54
- Jonathan Trott: Tests: 4, Runs: 155, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 2 – Average: 19.37 [Trott also opened in 2010 during a tour to Bangladesh]
- Adam Lyth*: Tests: 3, Runs: 193, Hundreds:1 , Fifties: 0 – Average: 32.16
The average lifespan of a makeshift England opener since 2010 is:
Tests: 11, Runs: 307, Hundreds: 0.83 , Fifties: 1 – Average: 30.06
Ironically, in that time, Alastair Cook’s run scoring drought also occurred. Not that there is any hard proof that correlation equals causation. Except it probably does, because he is a bloody good batsman and something must have thrown him off course.
The fundamental message here, is that England keep trying batsmen out that are really no better than each other at the job.
They refuse to settle and just back one man to do a job – so they pick a different man; only to be led to the same disappointment.
Compton, Carberry, Robson and Lyth are all very solid county opening batsman – but they are not world class Test openers.
So what should England have done?
From the Twitter-sphere at least, there are two general outcomes.
Either, they should have just stuck with the first cab off the rank – Nick Compton, who got the longest shot of the lot [so far] with nine Tests. *OR*, England could have kept up with ‘Golden Boy’ Joe Root, who opens for his county.
What is clear, is that with the ball, they did something which has worked. They picked one person, and backed them, and Moeen Ali has not just settled, but flourished..
Picking Moeen Ali as the spinner in this side has been somewhat of a coup for so many of the cynics out there.
What he has done, is grown into a very difficult role – he hasn’t complained, at all. He has tried exceptionally hard and just got on with it.
There is full awareness, he is not Muttiah Muralitharan. [If he was, England probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.
But, simultaneously, nobody is demanding him to be that. He is a batting allrounder that bowls quite well. It’s solid and steady and England know what they’re getting.
So why have England continued to go round and round with their openers – arguably causing instability at the top of the order, which is where the base for the innings is laid; but they have not messed around with the spinner?
The reason – is legacy.
England have produced many fine opening batsmen over the years. Just to name a few – Graham Gooch, Herbert Sutcliffe, Geoff Boycott, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Michael Atherton, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick, John Edrich and Michael Vaughan. And I’m sure there are many more.
England fans expect something great from our openers. Fans expect great England openers, full stop. At the very least – there is an expectation, that the openers will turn into something great.
England don’t expect great spinners. There is satisfaction with defensive spin bowling. That’s England picked Ashley Giles in 2005. It’s why they were so ecstatic when Graeme Swann emerged. We’d never seen anything like it.
England need to stop this roundabout, searching for a great opener.
England don’t have one at the moment.
Back someone – run with them for a prolonged period of time. They won’t produce greatness, but at least it will be something to work with.