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Sri Lanka v England

How England could rejig their line-up in Rory Burns’ potential absence

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read

As reported in London’s Evening Standard, there is a possibility that Rory Burns may miss a section of, or possibly the entire, upcoming England tour of Sri Lanka to be at the birth of his first child.

After making his England debut during the 2018 tour of Sri Lanka, Burns has established his place in the side at the top of the order. He’s passed 50 10 times in 21 Tests with an Ashes hundred at Edgbaston and a century in New Zealand last winter his standout performances thus far.

Here’s a look at how England may seek to rebalance their side should Burns miss the tour:

Recall Keaton Jennings

Jennings is a divisive figure among England supporters. While his record in home Tests is poor – he possesses the lowest average of any England opener to ever play 10 or more Tests in England – his record in Asia is excellent. Both of his Test hundreds have come in Asia and that he was an ever-present in England’s 3-0 win in Sri Lanka two years ago won’t be forgotten either. His recall would undoubtedly unleash the ire of unsatisfied fans but it would also represent an admirably pragmatic approach from England’s team of selectors.

Promote Zak Crawley

The golden boy of English Test cricket after his extraordinary 267 against Pakistan at Southampton, Crawley already has experience of opening at the top level. Crawley deputised for an injured Burns during England’s tour of South Africa earlier this year, averaging 32.60 from three Tests in the job. Though Crawley has no first-class experience in Asia, he did score a hundred in Sri Lanka in a warm-up game for England there earlier in 2020.

Recall Jonny Bairstow

Should Crawley move up the order, that leaves a spot open at No.3 and it may be that England revert to the man who last filled that job for them in Sri Lanka. Bairstow hit a counter-attacking hundred from No.3 in the final Test of the series in 2018 after two games out the side and while there’s little evidence that his vulnerability against straight, fast bowling has dissipated, he is unlikely to face much genuinely quick bowling in Sri Lanka.

Recall Ben Foakes

Alternatively, England could recall another of their stars from the 2018 tour. In his debut outing as a Test cricketer, Ben Foakes ended up as England’s Player of the Series. Foakes has represented England in just two further Tests – both in West Indies in early 2019 – and has struggled for domestic form following his exclusion from the England set-up since, though there were signs that he was back to his best with the bat with Surrey in this year’s Bob Willis Trophy. Foakes is a less likely option than Bairstow, though, and his inclusion would likely require more tinkering to the batting order, requiring one of the middle-order options to move up to number three and taking the gloves off Jos Buttler.

Introduce a newbie

Using similar logic as to the Bairstow recall option, England could alternatively call upon an untried batman at Test level. Dan Lawrence was the apparent next cab-off-the-rank earlier in the year while Gloucestershire’s James Bracey – someone capable of opening – spent much of the summer around the Test set-up, too.

Include an extra bowling option

England’s win in 2018 was partially based on the success of their triumvirate of spinners; Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. At the time, they were able to accommodate all three on account of their all-rounders, with both Moeen and Ben Stokes also occupying slots in the top seven. This time round, an all-rounder like Moeen or Sam Curran could come in for Burns and bat seven in a rejigged line up, with Buttler batting at No.6 and keeping.

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