Burns Extinguished!

Burns extinguished and England genuinely left without a clue as to who should bat in the top three come the Ashes!

Still, it should make for an exciting start to the county season and inspire England’s white-ball batsmen as well, not that they should need any further inspiration. The ODI World Cup precedes the Ashes and good form in big matches could result in a Test call-up.

It’s such a shame for Burns who has passed 1000 First Class runs in each of the last five seasons. Like many previous incumbents, he’s hinted at what he’s got to offer but certainly hasn’t nailed down his place.

It’s not even worth mentioning names and we’ve got one Test against Ireland to fix things! What if we pick a debutante and he gets a pair? Will he keep his place for the Ashes opener?

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, messrs Jennings and Denly are not out, so might cement their places for the Ireland encounter at Lords… might!

Keaton Out… in the Cold!

Only England are capable of regularly finding Test match opening batsmen capable of scoring Test hundreds (Compton, Lyth, Robson) but not actually capable of succeeding at Test match cricket!

Keaton Jennings is the latest to be dropped by England and he’s been replaced by Joe Denly (Not actually an opener) for the second Test against West Indies. The decision is both logical and illogical all at the same time. Jennings looks like a square peg in a triangular shaped hole but to have persisted with him this far! The fact that Adil Rashid has left the tour could be an argument for bringing in fellow leg-spinner Denly but with Jack Leach likely to return to the XI that’s stretching it a bit.

Jennings has been found wanting against pace once again and it’s hard to see a third way back… unless others don’t grasp the opportunity and we’re touring Asia… so we’ll probably see him again soon!

Denly has had a torrid time on tour (SL & WI) but now likely has two Tests to enjoy. He’ll open the batting but there’s that release of pressure of knowing he’ll be involved with the ball at least a bit too. His selection at the top of the order is likely to be a stop-gap selection. He needs to go out there, take the rough with the smooth and enjoy himself. He’ll likely need a Test hundred, ideally in the second Test then to open in the County Championship and absolutely plunder runs to keep his place for the Ashes.

Who opens the batting for England come this summer’s marquee series is anyone’s guess. If Rory Burns doesn’t deliver during the rest of the series then it really will be a shoot-out in the County Championship… which will be great for the competition.

I had hoped that KJ would find a way but it wasn’t to be. Wishing Joe Denly the very best of luck on Test debut and beyond!

England Crumble to Chase in… Chase!

A massive well done to West Indies on comprehensively and deservedly defeating England in the first Test.

We could talk about selection until the cows come home but can’t you always?

There’s no doubt that England’s preparation was pathetic. These everybody has a bat affairs don’t promote competitiveness. It would be far better to have a couple of eleven-a-side First Class fixtures, actually breed some competition between the players and put some pressure on them for their place, as there should be in Test Cricket. There’s value in the new buzzword, destigmatising being dropped but some intensity between teammates is needed in order to be successful. There is of course an argument about volume of cricket and time with family but maybe this highlights the need for different squads for different formats and the longer form almost becoming a completely separate sport.

As is typical with English pundits, a player who took an eight-wicket haul still got criticised and derided for being nothing more than a village cricketer. Maybe England should select some village cricketers. If so, I’m available!

The selection of Darren Bravo doesn’t say a lot about the state of willow wielders in West Indies cricket. He was selected based on history but wasn’t primed to perform given how little regional four-day cricket he’s played in recent times. Having said that, it’s probably a bit rich for an England supporter to be criticising the home team’s batting. He’ll likely score a ton now in the second Test. What a Test match for debutant John Campbell to be part of too!

It’s hard to see Adil Rashid playing in the next Test and Sam Curran might be struggling too but please don’t write him off. Please don’t lump him in the “Only good in home conditions” category, after one underwhelming performance.

Keaton Jennings will probably survive as Joe Denly has hardly made a case…

… and the likelihood of Moeen Ali being promoted to open after a pair is slim. Rory Burns did at least make strides and can hopefully back that up during the rest of the tour.

Fingers crossed for a couple more fascinating Test matches in the Caribbean. Oh, should probably mention Jason Holder too… well batted!

A Story of Sir Alastair, Keaton and Rory

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!

Preparation Stagnation

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.

Frustrated Foakes!

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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?

Rory Burns

Keaton Jennings

Joe Denly

Joe Root (c)

Ben Stokes

Jos Buttler (w)

Moeen Ali

Chris Woakes

Sam Curran

Adil Rashid

James Anderson

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.