No sooner have you’ve released an audio recording proclaiming that England’s batting options are limited, do all the contenders go big right on cue!
Mark Stoneman’s grip on the England opener’s slot is rapidly slipping from his grasp, literally as he’s just grassed teammate (?) Jonny Bairstow in Surrey’s match against Yorkshire. Of course knowing my luck, he’ll register a double ton in the second dig and cement his place in the England XI. In my audio post I mentioned that Stoneman’s challenge could most likely come from his domestic partner Rory Burns. Burns made 193 in Surrey’s last match and many have wondered how, with a record far superior to Stoneman’s, that Rocky got the gig in the first place.
Middlesex man Nick Gubbins, who batted well in the North v South series has recovered from injury and made 99 last time out for the London outfit. He could be primed for the call. Another left-handed opener, Keaton Jennings, has ticked off a maiden ton for his new home side Lancashire. Stoneman desperately needs runs and soon.
The middle order is a little trickier, unless captain Joe Root will move to number three. Dawid Malan has made a ton and a seventy-odd in his last two County Championship matches but is best served staying at five for England. He deserves to stay in the team following his Ashes hundred, a fifty in England’s last Test (Stoneman and Vince made fifties in their last innings too!) and his domestic form. He may have to move to four though in order to accommodate either Surrey’s Ollie Pope of more likely, Worcestershire’s more experienced Joe Clarke. Both have made two Championship tons this term but neither are batting at number three. If England do select the obdurate Burns alongside Cook (Assuming Cook is in!) at the top of the order then that may save the more aggressive and fluent James Vince at number three, meaning Pope and Clarke will have to wait. If Pope and Clarke don’t get their chance now then they may do so in the future or they could become the next James Hildreth. The Somerset stalwart also now has two County Championship centuries this campaign. That’s just the 43 First Class tons at an average of… 43 for Hildreth then!
Of course picking players on early season form is what England did with Gary Ballance and Stoneman (And Ed Smith!) and look where we are now? When Stoneman hit the ground running last year, so many supposed experts came crawling out of the woodwork claiming that they’d campaigned for Stoneman for England for years. Where are they now? Weren’t they the same people that have been banging on about Hameed? Runs or no runs only serves to highlight how difficult Ed Smith’s job is. It’s so easy to be swayed. It’s not art or science but a little bit of both!
Quite frankly, I give up predicting England’s batting order for the first Test against Pakistan. Let’s just wait and see…