An Englishman with a bat in front of three sticks of wood has now become as nervy of a spectacle as a penalty shootout. There is little conviction, no stability and on the face of it, a true lack of quality among England’s top order and with their second Test against India looming, what options does Chris Silverwood have to turn this feeling of despair around?
First of all the size of the problem needs acknowledging. Joe Root has now established himself as the second best batsman in the world, and is in the form of his life. He has averaged 65.3 over the past year, and it is frightening to imagine what this England side would look like without their captain. One man team is a phrase often thrown about in football, but Silverwood’s side have been a one-man batting line-up for at least the last 12 months.
The rest of the order, who should be performing with bat, have not found any sort of consistency. There has also been the glaring issue of batsmen going out for no score at all, seemingly unable to cope with the unique pressure of walking to the crease. We’ve discussed how the cricketing calendar and lack of warm-up games is working against this side.
In fact, only the minnows of Zimbabwe and Afghanistan are averaging more ducks per match than England (39 in 2021) as the rest of the top seven, Root aside, have been unbelievably poor. They’ve only collectively averaged 20.40, to put that in some context, New Zealand’s top seven have averaged 42.42 in the same time period which makes England by a large margin, the worst in the world.
In particular, the openers have let Root down on too many occasions. Back to the statistics, England’s captain in the four Tests so far this summer has had to come in with England’s score at an average of 34.5 while India have averaged a whopping 84.9 before their openers are dismissed. The difference is glaring.
Not since Sir Alastair Cook have England had an opener they can truly rely on, and we are not asking for much. We haven’t had a solid pairing at the top of the order for some time, but have been able to rely on one opener to lead the way and steady the ship, whether that be Andrew Strauss or Michael Atherton. Now, we have Rory Burns.
For England’s next Test, it seems Dom Sibley will be the fall guy, with Dawid Malan and Dale Vince in contention to replace him. Sibley has been given far too many chances at this level and is unlikely to be afforded another chase after another disappointing display. Burns has shown in spells that he can perform for England but this first India Test summed up his career so far. A steady 49 in the first innings was followed by a four-ball duck in the second.
Haseeb Hameed is expected to be pushed up to open the order with 219 runs across his three Tests so far and although his inexperience could be exposed, it is great to see a fresh-faced 24-year-old shake up the openers. Malan hasn't played for his country since August 2018 and averaged 27.84 but to throw him in at three against such a talented Indian bowling line-up will push him to the limit.
James Vince is on the periphery of things but his average of 24.90 over 13 matches is far from convincing and it seems Malan has edged him out on this occasion. This comes after Ollie Pope was released from the current squad having attempted to recover from injury, but his performances against New Zealand in June, with scores of 22, 20, 19 and 23, left a lot to be desired.
Liam Livingstone has hit the headlines in The Hundred this week and surely would be a good option to consider for the Test side. He has never played for his country in Test cricket but his aggression with the bat, his confidence and his ability to score quick runs would be beneficial at the top of this batting order.
The Burns and Sibley partnership was an unmitigated disaster and that experiment has now come to an end, which will hopefully see Burns improve alongside a new partner. Hameed will get his chance in the next Test, as England desperately try to provide a platform for Root to flourish, rather than relying on him to get them out of danger.
The lack of top experienced batsmen in England’s ranks is a serious concern, so the likes of Livingstone should be considered to drag them out of the mire. Silverwood has some big decisions to make, and the top order needs refreshing in order to avoid more embarrassment against India.