There have been 20 different England openers since Andrew Strauss retired from Test cricket in 2012.
Since then, it could be argued that it wasn’t until Rory Burns enjoyed a successful first Ashes series in 2019 that anyone other than Alastair Cook managed to cement their spot at the top of the order. Some of the men who didn’t quite nail down a long-term opening berth did however enjoy initial success in the role. Dom Sibley became the fifth English opener since Strauss retired to score a century in their first five Tests. To date, none of their England careers lasted more than 20 Tests.
Here are the five English openers to score more a Test century in their first five Tests since Strauss retired in 2012:
After his first three Tests, Sibley averaged under 15 with the bat and already had sections of the media questioning the suitability of his chest-on technique at Test level. With England boasting a slender 46-run first innings lead at Cape Town, Sibley batted unbeaten for over eight hours to leave South Africa needing a world record 438 to win the Test. To face more balls in an innings than Andrew Strauss ever did opening the batting in just his fourth Test is some achievement. Sibley has secured his spot at the top of the order for the short term at the very least.
Sibley's @WarwickshireCCC teammates are over the moon for him.
What a moment. pic.twitter.com/34q8OH7ovi
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 6, 2020
For all of Keaton Jennings’ struggles against pace bowling, unarguably a major issue for an opening batsman, Jennings does average over 45 in spin-friendly Asian conditions. Filling in for the injured Haseeb Hameed in Mumbai, Jennings scored a hundred in his maiden Test innings after being dropped on nought by Karun Nair at gully.
With the exception of his hundred in Sri Lanka in 2018, Jennings has struggled in Test cricket since. Jennings’ highest score in his 10 home Tests is 48 and although he is unlikely to represent England at home any time soon, his ability again spin makes his recall for England’s upcoming tours to the subcontinent against Sri Lanka in March and in India in early 2021 a realistic possibility.
Adam Lyth’s Test career may only have lasted seven Tests, but he did show initial promise in his first three Tests after being called up following a year as the standout batsman in county cricket. In his second Test, he scored a century and shared a 177-run opening partnership with Cook in England’s defeat to New Zealand at Headingley.
In the game that followed, the first Test of the 2015 Ashes at Cardiff, he struck a fluent 37 but even though he was ultimately part of an Ashes-winning team, Lyth never again passed 20 again in Test cricket.
Sam Robson’s Test career lasted a shade over two months despite averaging a respectable 30.54. Like Lyth, Robson registered a maiden Test century at Headingley in his second Test. However, also like Lyth, his form fell off as his first and only summer on the job continued. After a 59 in a slightly farcical Test at Trent Bridge that saw a career-best 81 from James Anderson and Alastair Cook’s only Test wicket – the pitch was subsequently rated poor by the ICC – Robson never passed 50 again.
The repetitive nature of Robson’s dismissals were a cause for concern – he was bowled four times in 11 innings – and he wasn’t helped by the eight month gap between England’s home series against India and their away trip to the Caribbean the following winter. His poor England Lions tour to South Africa in January 2015 that saw him average 15.33 perhaps had as much to do with his axing as anything else.
Perhaps the unluckiest of all the openers to debut since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012. Nick Compton, the first man to replace Strauss, played a part in England’s series win in India and scored hundreds in consecutive Tests on the New Zealand tour that followed. Six failures later and Compton was out of the side.
There is an argument that as he was the first to try and fill Strauss’ boots, expectations were too high for Compton and that his two centuries in New Zealand showed that he could have forged a successful enough career at the top of the order. He had another stint in the England team three years later, this time at No.3. That did not last long either.