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Series Editorial

Who’s in the running to open the batting for England against New Zealand?

by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

There are just two more rounds of the County Championship to take place before England return to Test action against New Zealand, meaning the race for selection is hotting up.

England are likely to start the summer with incumbent openers Zak Crawley and Alex Lees remaining at the top of the order. Crawley scored a century three Tests ago in the first match of the series against the West Indies. Whilst Lees, only three matches into his international career, showed impressive resilience in the Grenada Test and has started well in this year’s County Championship, making hundreds in each of his first two appearances. Although the pressure will be on for the Durham opener who is yet to pass 50 in international cricket.

Pressure is also being applied by a number of domestic openers around the country, with timely hundreds from both Dom Sibley and Rory Burns in their most recent Championship appearances. Below is a look at how all the contenders, including the outsiders, have been faring so far.

Incumbents

Zak Crawley

A fifty in his first innings of the campaign, but only one score in double figures since, Crawley has had a poor return to the County Championship and is averaging just 17.33 this season in a Kent side where opening partner Ben Compton and No.3 Daniel Bell-Drummond have registered five centuries between them in the opening rounds. Crawley still has credit in the bank however, after his most recent century for England came only three matches ago in Antigua.

Alex Lees

Lees had a tough start to life in an England shirt, averaging 21 after his first three matches. But he showed signs of improvement throughout the series and prevented any immediate calls for his axing with a fantastic start to the county season. Two matches have brought two centuries including an unbeaten 182 in the opening round against Glamorgan that was followed up with 105 against Sussex.

The main contenders

Rory Burns

Burns was dropped during England’s disastrous Ashes campaign but had at that point been the most successful of the England merry-go-round openers, averaging a tick above 30 after 30 matches. After being dropped he has worked on his technique to remove some of his many moving parts that had attracted criticism and has started the season well, if not brilliantly, for Surrey. A lean start saw him averaging 23.80 after four rounds, but a century against Northamptonshire on a green pitch at The Oval was a timely reminder of the left-handers’ abilities.

Dom Sibley

Similar to Burns, Sibley worked hard on his technique over the winter having been dropped by England at the back end of last summer. Opting to stay at home and net rather than tour with the England Lions. A simplified technique brought buckets of runs pre-season, but a golden duck in the opening round against Surrey didn’t get his campaign off to the best of starts. A semi-lean run followed but was brought to a comprehensive end as Sibley carried his bat for 145 against a strong Lancashire attack featuring Hassan Ali and Matt Parkinson. The innings lifted his average for the season to 58.25.

The outsiders

Tom Haines

The 23-year-old Sussex captain was the leading run-scorer in the country in last years’ County Championship and has started this year in fine form with a double-century arriving against Derbyshire in the second round of the competition. From 38 matches he has a first-class average of 37.19. Haines is yet to make an England Lions squad, but international recognition is unlikely to be far away if this form continues.

Haseeb Hameed

A low key start to the season for Hameed means he is yet to press a case for a recall to the England side having been dropped following the Ashes. Four matches have brought about just one half-century and he averages 26.83 from seven innings.

Ben Compton

Compton has had a computer game start to his County Championship career, scoring three centuries and two half-centuries in his first seven innings for Kent to give him an average of 93.33 for the season. Many club cricketers may be familiar with the boundary line thought exercise of, “how many centuries in a row would you need to score to play for England?” Well, Compton is doing his best to find out.

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