Five Contenders to Replace Adam Lyth in Pakistan
It’s been a largely brilliant summer for English cricket, with the Three Lions recapturing the Ashes urn and sharing a test series with a hugely talented New Zealand side.
As tends to be the case with English sport and the cricket in particular, where there are fantastic positives there are no shortage of negatives lurking in the shadows. One of these, once again, is the identity of Alastair Cook’s opening partner in the test team.
Adam Lyth, the current holder of the role, has done little to cement his position at the top of the order after a poor Ashes series, where a rather alarming technical flaw was preyed upon by an Australian bowling attack that looked oddly toothless for the bulk of the summer. An average of 12.77 from the five tests speaks volumes.
And so a replacement must be sourced; and pronto too with a test series against Pakistan in the UAE just around the corner. The lifeless pitches in Dubai offer a warm welcome to test cricket for the incumbent and England are series favourites, so there really is no time like the present for the new man.
So who are the potential candidates for what appears to be something of a poisoned chalice?
Despite his upbringing as an opening batsman for Worcestershire on the county circuit, Ali has batted in the lower reaches of this England side throughout his test career to date.
But he is an opener by trade, and appears to have the ability and temperament to flourish in the role. A test batting average of 31 isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it is worth remembering that he has often had to bat with the tail in his bizarre role at number eight in the order.
By shuffling Ali up to the top, the England selectors will also free up a spot in the side for another player; perhaps a spinner, such as Adil Rashid, whose services are likely to be greatly required on the dusty old tracks in Dubai.
Alex Hales is very much a modern day kind of batsman: with little heed paid to the dues of the game regardless of the format. He may be viewed by the traditionalists as too attacking to open for the test team, but with the nature of the game changing almost beyond recognition – and David Warner similarly prospering for Australia – perhaps Hales’ selection would represent the kind of forward-thinking that is required.
In his last county appearance for Nottinghamshire he smashed 189 runs from 216 balls, and so the form is there, and often with tour selection doing good things at the right time is crucial. With 886 runs at an average of 52 in the County Championship this season, Hales clearly ticks that box.
Whether the selectors think he can deliver a ‘dig in’ style knock when the conditions warrant it is another matter however.
A promising enough start to life as a test cricketer for Gary Ballance has been cruelly curtailed this summer, with a rather severe technical flaw – an unwillingness to press forward onto his front foot – exposed with relish by the likes of Trent Boult and Josh Hazlewood. That is of huge concern for a batsman who has made mincemeat out of bowling attacks at county level in recent years.
Indeed, a first class career average of 52.96 from more than 200 innings is frighteningly good: but does it showcase extraordinary ability or the relative mediocrity of the county game in this country?
His test average of 47.76, meanwhile, is handy too, although that has come largely from number three in the order. Opening the batting against the new ball would ask the same probing questions about his technique; and it remains to be seen if the Yorkshireman can iron out his difficulties in time for the Pakistan trip.
Compton has already had one dance around the maypole as an England opener; his nine tests returning a none-too-shabby average of 34.68, including two centuries. Of all the pretenders to sharing Alastair Cook’s throne at the top of the order in recent years, perhaps he has made the biggest – albeit not a lasting – impression.
But plenty of players have had second chances in the England side over the years and made them count, and with 951 runs in the county game this campaign at an average of 38.04 it seems there is life in the old dog yet.
But at 32, perhaps time isn’t on his side as he battles for a reintroduction to the international game in a brave new era for English cricket.
Very much a limited overs specialist, Roy currently opens for the ODI side and has done a passable if not startling job. This lukewarm start to life as an England opener could either count against him (the stats aren’t great), or for him (he’s faced some of the best bowlers in the world and lived to tell the tale), depending on how generous you are feeling.
He has scored 112 and 99 in two of his past five innings for Surrey, as well as 67 for his country in the second ODI against Australia just last week, and as previously mentioned timing is everything when making a case for tour selection.
At 25 years old, Roy fits the profile nicely for the modern cricketer too, and could form a long-term England batting line-up that includes the likes of Joe Root, Hales, Ben Stokes and Ali.
And while he hasn’t had much exposure to the longer form of the game – he’s not a certain pick for Surrey in the County Championship – this season alone he has clattered 629 runs in 15 innings at an average of 48.38. There is, clearly, huge talent here. But his selection would represent a gamble; and the England selectors are not known for rolling the dice when a more conservative option is available.