England’s test team has struggled to find a balanced top order in recent years and those struggles have led to some embarrassing batting collapses. Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes series masked the fact that the hosts made just 67 on first innings and that effort was indicative of those issues at the time.
Moving forward from that series and into England’s tour of South Africa, that top six may finally be falling into place and while the recovery may come too late in terms of the World Test Championship, Joe Root’s men are suddenly looking in good shape for the 2021/22 Ashes.
It was well-documented that Alastair Cook had no fewer than 15 opening partners from his debut in 2006 through to his final test against India in 2018. 12 years is a long career but, following an extended period of stability with Andrew Strauss, it all began to fall apart.
Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Mark Stoneman and Alex Hales are just four of those 15 players who failed to cement a place alongside the former captain at the top of the order. However, after a lengthy search, Cook’s retirement has indirectly led to what looks to be a stable pairing. Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley look to possess the technique, the patience and the mindset to bat long in test match cricket, and it’s all starting to look a lot more positive.
The Ashes series is always going to be a target and England’s batting is starting to fall into place. Early cricket betting markets show Australia as favourites to retain the urn at 8/15 but England’s price of 11/4 could hold some value.
The Burns and Sibley opening partnership started positively enough as they put on 52 for the first wicket against New Zealand back in November. It was a poor test for England overall but the two men had just started to bring some resistance back to a prime area of concern.
A freak injury to Burns in South Africa curtailed their partnership but they are expected to resume when test cricket returns. With Sibley averaging just over 40 from his first six matches and Burns starting to look solid after a modest early return, the two look to be the first choice opening pairing.
Through the Order
Behind the top two, the gritty Joe Denly looks to have done enough to keep his place at number three, but if the selectors turn to youth Kent colleague Zac Crawley could come in as replacement. With Joe Root and Ben Stokes to follow, England are suddenly looking far more solid as a batting unit and there are fewer weaknesses for the Aussie bowlers to exploit.
Australia vs England should always be a hard-fought series but when Root’s men last came here in 2017/18, a one-sided 4-0 victory for the hosts underlined those weaknesses. From November 2021 onwards, the emergence of a settled top order could make for a more close encounter.