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County Championship 2021

Can Adam Lyth force a return to Test cricket?

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

The 2021 County Championship is in full swing and one of the most intriguing storylines so far has been the stellar form of Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth.

Three games and six innings into the season, Lyth has hit 488 runs at an average of 97.60, racking up two centuries and three half-centuries in the process – his lowest score so far is the 58-ball 42 he compiled against Sussex.

It represents a resurgence against the red ball for the 33-year-old: this is the first year since 2017 that Lyth has hit multiple first-class centuries in one season. Furthermore, not since 2016 – when he hit more than 1,000 runs at 40.46 – has Lyth averaged more than 34 across a full English first-class summer.

He could be timing his run just right too. Incumbent top-order options Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are all yet to make a significant mark this season, and each struggled somewhat over the winter, so there could yet be room for a bolter in Joe Root’s side. While Lyth, at 33 years old, is older than each of those three, It’s far from unheard of for players to make a mark having been called up at such an age. Joe Denly performed a creditable role for England having made his debut aged 32, while Chris Rogers, who averaged 43 in 25 Tests, won just one of his Australia caps before the age of 35.

England are also in the midst of a tough run of fixtures, with India, New Zealand and Australia all ranked above them in the Test rankings, with future planning perhaps taking a backseat if a player could offer instant returns.

Lyth at this current moment in time looks more similar to the man who demanded Test selection in 2015. After topping the run-scoring charts in Division One in 2014 with six hundreds in 23 innings, Lyth made his Test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s in May of the following year and hit a century against a Black Caps attack featuring Tim Southee and Trent Boult at Headingley in his second Test. He struggled in the Ashes that summer, however, with 37 his highest score across nine innings against Australia. He hasn’t played international cricket since.

Since then, it’s been in domestic white-ball cricket that Lyth has made more of a name, most significantly in 2017 when he hit 161 from 73 ball against Northants, the highest score in T20 Blast history. Franchise cricket has also come calling in the last year, with Multan Sultans signing Lyth up ahead of the 2020 play-off stages of the Pakistan Super League.

Now, Lyth seems to have returned to the fluency of old in four-day cricket, which brings to mind the words of Andrew Gale, Lyth’s head coach at Yorkshire and former teammate, from 2014: “I’ve said to Adam all along that of all the Yorkshire lads that have been playing for England recently – Root, Bairstow, Ballance – he is the one with the most ability.”

Whether Lyth can force another opportunity for himself at Test level remains to be seen.

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