With Jonny Bairstow back with the England squad in India and Zak Crawley likely to be fit again for the first Ahmedabad Test, England have some tricky decisions to make regarding the make-up of their top three. A collection of Wisden writers share how they think England should go about the job.
Ben Gardner, Wisden.com managing editor
Sibley, Burns, Crawley
Dom Sibley, as ever, is the stick-on, but there’s plenty of contention over the other two slots. I fancy England will make a double swap, but I’d give Rory Burns one more go. He’s shown before that he’s useful in a Last Chance Saloon scenario, and there have been hints of glimpses that he might not be totally unsuited to playing spin in India.
Then it comes down to a choice between Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow, with Dan Lawrence not doing enough as deputy to stake a claim for first-choice status. Bairstow made more runs in Sri Lanka, but Crawley’s the long-term option, and it’s only five knocks ago that he made 267. Besides, Jasprit Bumrah with a new pink ball under lights targeting the Yorkshireman’s toes and stumps doesn’t really bear thinking about.
Yas Rana, Wisden.com head of content
Sibley, Burns, Crawley
Eight innings into 2021 and Dom Sibley is still the only England batsman to register a 50-plus score from the top three this year. Picking who joins him at the top of the order is not straightforward.
Burns is in the midst of an ugly run of low scores and is in danger of his average dropping below 30. So far this series, he’s been dismissed by Ravichandran Ashwin every time he’s encountered him and given his previous struggles against Roston Chase, Ashwin taking the upper hand in that particular duel hardly comes as a surprise. That said, with the pink ball – that generally swings more than its red counterpart – in use for the first Ahmedabad, you’d think seam bowling is likely to play a more prominent role in proceedings than we have so far seen this series. Getting through the new pink ball will be a significant challenge for an opener agains this India attack and Burns, who overcame a similarly fallow period in 2019, is still better placed to succeed in doing so than England’s other options.
Dan Lawrence, who does not bat in the top three for Essex, misses out, as does Jonny Bairstow. Bairstow was dependable in Sri Lanka, but it should be remembered that while Bairstow has shown himself to be a proficient player of spin at Test level this year, he has had well-documented against high quality pace, of which England’s No.3 can expect to face plenty of at Ahmedabad.
Aadya Sharma, Wisden India editor
Sibley, Burns, Bairstow
Dom Sibley has done little wrong to not justify a place, and his half-century in the first Test highlighted how he has quickly adapted his dogged technique on turning surfaces in the subcontinent. While there are enough guns pointed at Rory Burns and his perceived challenges of countering spin, facing a seam-dominated attack in the pink-ball game could be more his territory, where his ability to wear down attacks and good judgement around his off stump (when the ball is expected to jag around) could be ideal at the top of the order.
At No.3, England could do with some experience in the form of Jonny Bairstow. A good player of spin, Bairstow averages over 40 in India and seems to be a better bet than Dan Lawrence, who probably still needs a bit of work before he can occupy the pivotal slot on challenging Indian pitches.
Rohit Sankar, Wisden India staff writer
Sibley, Crawley, Stokes
Dom Sibley has gone from being a suspect opener who gets caught at leg gully and struggles against spinners to a dogged one capable of wearing down bowlers, fast or spin. Rory Burns, meanwhile, hasn’t made a fifty-plus score since his 90 against West Indies in Manchester and has appeared short on confidence, especially against the turning ball with off-spin evidently posing him problems at the moment. Zak Crawley struggled against Sri Lanka in Galle, but on a new wicket against a pink ball, Crawley might be better placed than Burns to open the innings.
With Crawley opening, Jonny Bairstow is the obvious choice at No.3, but I’d like to see England try Ben Stokes at the top. As Rohit Sharma showed in the second Test, quick runs early in the innings are invaluable in the sub-continent. Stokes might pose different questions to India’s bowling attack, armed with the skill to go on the offensive, one that England’s openers don’t quite possess.
One of the best technically-equipped players in the England line-up, Stokes is good against the moving ball and can also counterattack at the top if needed.