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When will England's Test top order sort itself out?

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20th December, 2021

Let’s rewind back to the 2010-11 Ashes, played down under. A still strong Australia under Ricky Ponting were blown away by England in the Ashes.

In the following summer, India – the recent 2011 World Cup champions under a full strength MS Dhoni – were swept aside like a B-rated team by England.

Nowadays, England are feared but only in white-ball cricket and are not as threatening in red-ball cricket.

Sure, the potency of the bowlers has sustained and perhaps even improved with the likes of Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes.

The quality of a sound middle order has somewhat sustained too. Kevin Pietersen has been replaced by Joe Root and Ian Bell has perhaps been replaced by Ben Stokes.

However, what has failed quite miserably is the lack of quality openers and a viable number three since Alastair Cook’s retirement and Root’s demotion to four for England.

Joe Root of England talks to his players after the lunch breakduring day four of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 11, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Let’s analyse the averages of the 2011 English top order that was present at the end of their careers.


Andrew Strauss had an average of 40 at his retirement, Alastair Cook retired with a knighthood at 47 and Jonathan Trott retired above 40. Ian Bell stood in at four in Trott’s absence and averaged just about 38 at the three spot.

Let’s then analyse the top order after Cook’s retirement. There have been seven openers who have been tried and tested since then. They are the following.

1. Jason Roy
Jason Roy, usually seen as a limited-overs specialist, was tried as an opening option in the 2019 Ashes. But he had an abysmal averge of eight and only mustered around 60 runs in four Test matches.

2. Joe Denly
He had slightly more success, having scored two half centuries with average of about 30 as an opener. He was more significantly tried as a number three in South Africa and New Zealand. His average was still around 30 and he only scored three half centuries in 15 innings before not being considered for selection since 2021.

3. Zak Crawley
Zak Crawley was another potential option tested to be England’s long-term Test opener. He was persisted with as a number one option in South Africa, Sri Lanka and India but failed quite miserably. With an abysmal average of 20 in 13 innings, he only had two significant scores of 66 in Johannesburg and 53 in India with no other score of reputable note.

However, he was then experimented with as a number three with a slightly better average of 38 in six innings. However, it is important to note that high looking average could be distorted by his brilliant 267 against Pakistan in that Southampton Test. Excluding that one innings, he has only managed to achieve double figures in four out of nine innings.


4. Keaton Jennings
Keaton Jennings was one of the first players experimented with around the time Cook retired. He followed the trend of having an abysmal average of 25 and that was including his debut hundred, 50 in India and 146 against Sri Lanka in 31 innings.

5. Dom Sibley
Dom Sibley was seen as another option and was persisted with in 22 matches and 39 innings. While he scored two centuries and five 50s, he still had a questionable average of 28 and now recently lost England’s patience to be included as a reliable opener.

6. Rory Burns
Perhaps England’s most prevalent opener in this era, Burns has opened for 57 innings so far with three 100s, 11 50s and eight ducks. With his average of 30 being seen as one of the more consistent and better ones among England openers, it shows just how far the standards have fallen since the retirement of Cook.

England's Rory Burns after dropping a catch

(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

7. Haseeb Hameed
Perhaps a brighter light than previous prospects, Hameed has opened for England in 13 of their most recent innings with an average of 34. He has scored four 50s so far with a highest score of 82. With age on his side, he still has a long way to go and it would be unfair to judge him prematurely.

However, at number three, apart from Joe Denly and Zak Crawley, a few others have been tried.

The most significant one was Joe Root with an average of 40, but it is now best understood that he is now a number four player.


Apart from him, T20I juggernaut Dawid Malan is now being seen as the number three option with an average of above 40 in seven innings. But again, like Hameed, it would be unfair to judge him prematurely without more data.

However, others who have been tried at number three include Jonny Bairstow, James Vince, Moeen Ali, Dan Lawrence and Gary Ballance, all with averages of about 30 with questionable red-ball techniques in their quality of batting.

There are reasons to be optimistic though. If Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan consistently continue to perform, they can cover two of the three top-order spots.

But the quest for the a solid top order remains if England are to be feasible competitors to India, Australia and New Zealand in red-ball cricket.