If England win this summer’s Ashes or/and World Cup, then we could have a host of new MBEs!
The chances of Keaton Jennings playing in the World Cup are slim. The chances of Rory Burns doing so are… even slimmer!
The likelihood of the pair playing in the Ashes and possibly earning knighthoods will be defined on the Test tour of West Indies. No disrespect to the current Caribbean collective but if you offered an opening batsman an away destination to cement their place in their own team then West Indies would currently be high on most player’s list.
Jennings was previously dropped on the eve of a home series against West Indies. He’ll hope not to be dropped post a Caribbean encounter this time. He played spin well in Sri Lanka and was razor sharp in the field but questions of his ability against pace linger. Based on the evidence and scars inflicted by South Africa, answering those questions against Australia won’t be easy!
Burns performed well in the second Test in Sri Lanka after a disappointing debut. He failed in the final Test however and his aesthetics aren’t to everybody’s pleasure. If he leaves the door even slightly ajar and some young gun plunders runs on the county scene or even Surrey teammate Jason Roy produces a run gluttonous World Cup then Burns will follow another Surrey man, his opening partner Mark Stoneman, back to the county game and with little chance of a Jennings style recall.
Should KJ and RB perform well in West Indies, help England regain the Ashes, go on to score a few thousand Test runs and even captain England (They’ve got experience) then maybe they could yet join Alastair Cook by having a new prefix!
England commence their long anticipated Test series in Sri Lanka very shortly but their preparation has lacked serious intensity. I appreciate that the climatic conditions have dealt an unfavourable hand but this scenario is nothing new to England’s cricketers.
I have always been in favour of a couple of official First Class matches on tour. These whole squad get involved matches are little more than a glorified net and are not treated as competitive matches. Whilst the individual element may seem like good prep, I strongly believe that an individual playing only one First Class warm-up rather than participating in two exhibition affairs, would be more akin to playing Test Cricket. Had Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings opened in the first of two official warm-up games in the knowledge that Joe Denly was to be presented with a chance in that slot in the second match, the pressure on them to perform would surely be more akin to actually playing Test cricket.
On the subject of Denly, he may well have played himself out of a Test debut with a shoddy performance in the warm-up matches. With mid-series tour matches almost eradicated, how do the likes of Denly or Ollie Pope restate their case for selection in situations such as these? This is a feeling that’s all too familiar to Gary Ballance!
As is often the case with any selection related article that I’ve scripted, either the landscape has changed very quickly or I was just completely misguided in my initial assessment. Surrey’s Ben Foakes now looks a likely Test debutant in the first Test and could really muddy the selection waters ahead of Jonny Bairstow’s return to fitness, by producing a good performance. Imagine if Jos Buttler falls twice to spin for single figure scores!
Somerset spinner Jack Leach also seems likely to return to skipper Joe Root’s XI and hopefully he and Foakes can convert consistent county career contributions to the international stage. England will be desperate to bounce back in Asia following their abysmal attempts in Bangladesh and India a couple of years ago.
Surrey’s Ben Foakes spent last winter warming the bench during a lengthy Ashes tour and could now be set to do the same in Sri Lanka. Since last winter, Jos Buttler has returned to the side not only as a specialist batsman but also as second choice wicketkeeper. As a result, even though Jonny Bairstow injured himself playing football, former Essex-man Foakes remains unlikely to play in the first Test. If Bairstow is anything shy of 100% fit then based on his attempts at playing when injured during last summer, he should be nowhere near the XI. The England management need to be brave enough to make the sort of calls that Italy’s football coach Arrigo Sacchi did with star player Roberto Baggio during the early stages of World Cup USA ’94. England also have Foakes’ Surrey teammates Ollie Pope and rather less likely, uncapped opening batsman Rory Burns as alternative wicketkeeping options. That’s just the five glovemen in the squad then!
Based on what we saw last winter, it’s quite possible that England’s XI in the third Test may be rather different to what we see in the first encounter. With little game time under his belt, Somerset spinner Jack Leach may be unlikely to start the series but if England fall behind then he may well be called upon. It may also be the case that the delicate Olly Stone benefits from not playing though you’d think some overs under his belt would be helpful.
Much maligned opening batsman Keaton Jennings missed out in his only opportunity on tour so far as did Joe Denly. Though Denly’s return to England’s T20I side went romantically well, the nature of the game means that he was able to claim wickets without bowling at his best. That is unlikely to be the case in the Test series. It’s tough to call but with rumours that Stuart Broad may be rested and Sam Curran’s left-arm variety useful, particularly if Leach is omitted, could England’s line-up in the first Test look like this?
Joe Root (c)
If the weather allows, England basically now have a one-day game before the first Test. Wickets for the likes of Broad and Leach or runs for Pope or Foakes could yet have a bearing on the make-up of England’s XI. Of course if Buttler were to get injured during a Test, it’d be perverse if Foakes and Pope were sat on the bench alongside Bairstow whilst Rory Burns assumed the gloves on what would turn out to be a heck of a demanding introduction to international cricket for the Surrey skipper.
Less than two years ago and whilst still a teenager, a stoic but adaptable young batsman from Lancashire made his Test bow in India. He promptly made 82 on debut and even made 59 not out when batting with a fractured finger in his last Test. Despite requiring surgery, it seemed as though England had found an opening batsman for the next decade or more. That man was Bolton-born Haseeb Hameed and when Keaton Jennings, Hameed’s injury replacement scored a ton on his debut, it looked as though some competition for the years to come had really been bred. Jennings however has been found wanting at Test level ever since and the same can be said of Hameed, if only at domestic level. Hameed’s performances in the County Championship have been so woeful that you seriously have to question whether or not he’ll add to his three Test caps. Given that England seem unlikely to ever drop Alastair Cook regardless of form, it could be that Cook will still be at the top of England’s order for another twenty years!
In 2017, Hameed totalled 513 runs in 21 County Championship innings, He averaged 28.50 with a top score of 88. After a horrendous start that made him unselectable for the national side, he did at least recover slightly. Unfortunately, he’s gone completely the opposite way during the current campaign. In 17 innings this term, Hameed has compiled a limp 165 runs at a miserable 9.71. His highest score is just 31. This is an opening batsman don’t forget! No matter how many times he returns to the second XI, scores a big ton and comes back (Full of confidence?), he just can’t translate his abilities to the First Class arena. His career average is now only just above thirty at 30.91
Current incumbent Keaton Jennings has seventeen First Class tons with an average of 34.02 and just look how much he’s struggled in home conditions in Test cricket. It could be that Hameed is, like the oft-used examples of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, more suited to the higher level and that it brings out the best in him. In order to be presented with the opportunity to prove that though, he’s going to have to score SOME runs at county level. If Rory Burns can’t get a game given the amount of runs that he compiles year after year then Hameed is a long way from England selection. The romantics will push for his recall however and they’ll point to that Test average of 43.80 (From six innings!).
Will Hameed, in the words of former Zimbabwe player Henry Olonga ‘Rise Again’?
We’ll have to wait and see but let’s hope so.
England Test squad for the three-match tour of West Indies:
Alastair Cook (Captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (Wicketkeeper), Ed Barnard, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Joe Clarke, Mark Footitt, Sam Hain, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope (Wicketkeeper), Ben Stokes, James Vince, Mark Wood
Joe Root was not considered due to injury. He is replaced by James Vince who missed the tour of Sri Lanka through injury. In Root’s absence the side will be led by Alastair Cook, as was the case against Pakistan last summer. Jack Leach, having returned to full fitness, replaces Liam Dawson in the only other change from the squad that toured Sri Lanka.