Former England opener Sir Alastair Cook rates incumbent Test openers Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns as “the stand-out pair” for England at the top of the order.
“They seem to be the stand-out pair at the moment to open the batting for England and should be given a really good run,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.
Burns’ Test career began as Cook’s ended, but the two did play together last summer, opening for an England Lions side captained by Burns. Cook said he was “surprised” at the decision to make the Surrey man skipper, but was “impressed” by how he took to the job.
“I played with Rory Burns for England Lions against India A and he was very unflustered – he was made captain, which surprised me, but he handled it really well. I was very impressed by his mental approach, it’s a big thing to step up from Surrey to play representative cricket and especially after he’d been waiting a long time for his chance.”
Cook also had kind words for Jennings, alongside whom he ended his Test career. At that point Jennings was in the middle of a torrid spell, averaging 17.72 from 10 home Tests, leading to calls for his axing from the side. “I like Keaton Jennings,” said Cook. “Everyone in the set-up likes him because they see a very level-headed guy who seems to take the rough with the smooth very well.”
If those two are nailed on to opening the batting, fitting in many other specialists could be tough for an England team that finds itself flush with all-rounders, and also now having to fit in specialist keeper Ben Foakes, who made himself undroppable after scoring a century on debut in Sri Lanka.
“It’s very hard to get the right amount of specialist batting now,” said Cook. “Foakes definitely deserves to play so it becomes a balancing act to get the team right. That balance of four seamers and two spinners covers all bases in the West Indies because if the pitch turns, you’ll be fine. But Foakes coming and scoring that hundred has changed the dynamic of the side.”
That hundred set the platform for a 3-0 whitewash, perhaps Joe Root’s finest moment so far as England captain. Cook recognised a team finally being formed in its captain’s image. “After that winter where we lost the Ashes to Australia and then lost to New Zealand, Root came home knowing how he wanted to move forward and that’s exactly what he’s done,” he said.
“After we lost to Pakistan at Lord’s, Root told us he didn’t care about how long we batted for, it was about how many runs we scored and he always wanted us to take the positive option, even in defence.
“In the second Test at Headingley we were more decisive and that message has been banged in against India and Sri Lanka as well. He’s found his method and people have responded to it.”
That period of bedding in is one that Cook says he also experienced. “The first year, 18 months, you just try and find out what works for you and how to get the best out of the players you’ve got,” he said. “I was just trying to be perfect in everything I did – I was really paranoid about what I said to the team, when I said it, I was writing lots of stuff down and it probably became forced. At the end it was far more natural and people respond when it’s natural and authentic and it gave me more longevity because I wasn’t so stressed.”
England’s first Test against West Indies begins tomorrow, January 23, in Barbados.