The recent retirement of Jonathan Trott has opened up the now too familiar point of discussion for England cricket fans: who will open the batting with Alastair Cook in Test matches?
Since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, England captain Alastair Cook has shared opening stands with six different players and when the first New Zealand ball is bowled at Lord’s later this month, that number will most probably be seven. The question we ask now is – who will it be?
We’ve shortlisted five potential candidates to fill the boots of Jonathan Trott – can one of these be the missing piece to the puzzle?
Ali is probably considered an outsider for this post but the all-rounder does have history at the top of the order. He also holds the most Test caps amongst these challengers and is the only player shortlisted here to already have a place in England’s current Test match squad. Ali first made his name on the international scene in the one-day format for England and has opened in 20 of his 22 ODI appearances, scoring at an average of 33.27. Most recently, he opened in England’s 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign and was one of only two England players in the tournament to pass the three-figure mark when he scored 128 against Scotland in Christchurch. In the Test arena though, Ali has not been exposed at the top of the order and his one century in thirteen tests from the middle order doesn’t make for encouraging reading. With the England coaches still nurturing his bowling skills, it is unlikely that the selectors will distract the Worcestershire man with the responsibility of opening the batting too.
The Middlesex batsman was the surprise addition to England’s Summer Test squad last year. Despite a disastrous 2013/14 Ashes tour, the performances of Ben Stokes and previous opening bat Michael Carberry had seemed the only glimpses of positivity. However, the selectors removed Carberry and his place was taken by 25-year-old Sam Robson. Robson’s form in the county arena had earned him is call-up and a first Test century soon followed. However, he could record only one more fifty over the entire summer and was left out of England’s recent Test squad to play the West Indies. To this year, and Robson is yet to lift up any trees. A sensational 178 against Durham may have been enough to raise the eyebrows of the England selectors but prior to that he had not scored more than 35 in an innings. I suspect he may need some more first-class runs under his belt before he can seriously be re-considered for Test selection.
Alex Hales: once the world’s best T20 batsmen, but it is clear his attentions are switching to more traditional horizons. After missing out on a second successive IPL season, Hales is reaping the rewards on the first-class stage. The Nottinghamshire batsman, who has been a part of England’s T20 side since 2011 and ODI team from last summer, has a stunning record against some of the world’s best bowlers. Though not previously considered an option for the longer format, Hales has responded by starting 2015 in emphatic style. He became the first man to pass 500 first-class runs this season in a campaign where he has already scored a 141 against Hampshire as well as an extremely impressive 236 against Yorkshire. Hales still remains an outsider to fill Trott’s shoes, but his fine start to 2015 and wealth of international experience certainly keeps him in contention.
When Michael Carberry was ousted from the team last year, Lyth was many people’s preferred shout to take on the opener’s responsibilities and now with the vacancy open once again, the Yorkshireman is unsurprisingly back in the hunt. His fine form in 2014 earned him the title of Yorkshire’s Player of the Year and more runs in the England Lions’ tour of South Africa followed. He got a call up to Peter Moores’ squad travelling to the West Indies and whilst not selected for any of the Test matches, he is clearly on the selectors’ radar. Despite an impressive first-class average, he boasts no full-international experience across any format of the game and so some still consider selecting him a huge risk with the bowling attacks of New Zealand and Australia touring this summer.
Lees is certainly “one for the future”. Like Lyth, Lees is a Yorkshireman who lives and breathes runs, and at just 22 is an exciting prospect for English cricket. The opening bat has started 2015 in great form too, scoring fifties in both innings of Yorkshire’s opening LV County Championship match against Worcestershire last month before following it up with a century against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge a week later. He would without doubt be the shock selection, but it would certainly not be the first time that the England selectors pull someone in from left-field. He certainly looks a fantastic prospect for the future – I think it should stay that way, for now.
Having returned from what can only be described as a disappointing tour of the Caribbean; all eyes now turn to the start of the 2015 summer for the England cricket team. World Cup finalists New Zealand await, and are already in England with their preparations well under way for the two-match test series, which starts at Lord’s on May 21st. Whilst New Zealand have already selected theirs, England will name their squad later this month, where we will find out which one of these five will get England’s spot at the top.