Zak Crawley, Rory Burns and Dom Sibley briefly threatened to end England’s long-standing top-order woes, but they have returned with a vengeance as India claimed a 1-0 series lead at Lord’s.
England have lost five Tests in seven, with the other two draws rain-affected, and the struggles of the trio have contributed. More than a quarter of innings played by England’s top-three this year have been ducks, with Burns equalling the record for the most noughts in a calendar year by an opener, and Sibley just one behind.
Crawley, averaging 11.14 for the year, has already lost his place, with Haseeb Hameed coming in at No.3 in his place, and Sibley is now under similar pressure, having made 11 and 0 at Lord’s, and with an average of 19.77 in 2021.
There is something of a paucity of options to replace him, however. Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss, it feels as if England have trialled basically every county opener to have a season of note. But there are a few yet to get a go.
(Stats in italics refer to all first-class cricket)
Alex Lees – Durham
123 matches, 6,971 runs at 35.38, 17 100s, HS: 275*
One of a crop of exciting young Yorkshire batsman to emerge in the early 2010s, Alex Lees earned plaudits from Geoffrey Boycott after making 275* against Derbyshire, and in 2014, he made three hundreds and averaged 44 in a County Championship tot;e win. Since then, he has struggled, failing to average 40 in any of the next four seasons. He has improved somewhat since moving to Durham, averaging over 45 in the past two seasons, though he only has two tons in that time.
Chris Dent – Gloucestershire
155 matches, 9,537 runs at 37.54, 18 100s, HS: 268
Gloucestershire fans – and players – will fume at Chris Dent’s lack of England recognition, with the top-knotted opener topping 1,000 runs and averaging in excess of 44 in five of seven seasons between 2013 and 2019, securing the Bristol-based side promotion to Division One in the last of those. However, the promise of a bigger stage never materialised due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Dent’s form evaporated too, with an average under 30 and no hundreds in each of the last two seasons.
87 matches, 5,215 runs at 34.53, 10 100s, HS: 201*
2016 is remembered for Donald Trump’s election, England’s Euros exit to Iceland, and an unusually bountiful season for openers in the County Championship. At pretty much any other point in the last nine years, scoring 1,409 runs at 61.26 to drive your side to a County Championship title would guarantee you a ten-Test stint. But with Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings all also prolific, Gubbins had to make do with an England Lions call-up. He has since struggled to repeat his success, but a move to Hampshire might just have had a restorative effect: since moving to the South Coast, he has scored an unbeaten 137 in the Championship and an unbeaten 131 in the One-Day Cup. Overall, he averages 42.96 in the last two first-class seasons.
90 matches, 4,682 runs at 36.57, 5 100s, HS: 147
For better and worse, one of county cricket’s most consistent openers in the past six years. Davies is one of the best in the country at getting to 50, but one of the worst at kicking on, with 33 fifties but just five hundreds in 135 innings. The 2021 campaign rather sums him up, with an average of 48, seven fifties, but a high score of 84. However, as an effective white-ball batsman with an extra gear, his high-tempo starts make him an appealing option.
49 matches, 2,717 runs at 35.28, 6 100s, HS: 156
He’s not exactly an opener, but does the job for Gloucestershire sometimes. He’s also not exactly untried, though given his Test career so far consists of three innings at No.7, where he rarely bats for his county, with the extra burden of the gloves, Bracey should perhaps not be written off yet, even if he hardly impressed first time around. Before he was worked over by the Black Caps, he was anointed as England’s next man in, having done his time in the bib, impressed in an intra-squad warm-up, and downed Somerset in the West Country derby.
71 matches, 3,899 runs at 34.50, 9 100s, HS: 184
Up until last year, nothing much stood out about Jake Libby: He had averaged 28.60 in first-class cricket having made his debut in 2014, with five hundreds in six seasons. Then he moved to Worcestershire, and everything clicked. He has since added four more hundreds, including coming within minutes of breaking the record for the longest Championship innings ever, with an average of 58.90 in that time. If England are looking for county cricket’s in-form opener, it’s him.
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