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County Championship 2021

Who is leading the race for an England top-order slot against New Zealand?

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

The make-up of England’s top three still retains a sense of uncertainty ahead of the two-match Test series with New Zealand in June.

There was little joy for the top (as well as middle) order in India, with all of England’s batsmen in the opening three averaging less than 17 in the series.

While it seems unlikely that England will opt for a dramatic reconfiguration of their top order in home conditions, we’ve taken a look at how the incumbents – as well as some other options potentially worth considering – are currently faring in county cricket:

The recent regulars

Rory Burns

Burns was dropped for the first time in his Test career during the tour of India after hitting 58 runs across four innings. He’s shown glimpses of form upon his return to county cricket, most recently looking in fine touch at Lord’s last week with a half-century against Middlesex. A big statement score still awaits him, however.

Zak Crawley

After a boundary-laden half-century in his first innings against India, Crawley added just 14 runs in his next three knocks in the series and carried his struggles into the County Championship, averaging 13 after the opening two rounds. Nevertheless, there were positive signs against Lancashire last week, with Crawley hitting a 65-ball 60 in his side’s first innings.

Dom Sibley

Sibley’s start to the season has been disrupted by a fractured finger sustained in the field against Nottinghamshire earlier this month, ruling him out of two red-ball games for Warwickshire. He should still be able to make a case for selection ahead of the New Zealand Tests.

The in-and-around man

James Bracey

Bracey has been a regular in England’s red-ball bubbles since the start of last summer after impressing with a half-century in an intrasquad game, but an actual Test cap has yet to come his way. His early season form has been the most impressive of any batsmen who toured India and Sri Lanka over the winter, with 343 runs in six innings bringing in an average of 68.60. He was particularly impressive in a fine win for Gloucestershire over Somerset, following up a century with a fourth-innings 83*.

The been-there-done-that crew

Adam Lyth

Yorkshire’s Lyth has been the standout opener in the opening three rounds of the Championship, with his tally of 488 runs so far putting him in the running to reach 1,000 runs before the end of May. He does have a Test century to his name as well – against New Zealand back in 2015.

Sam Robson

Robson has been Middlesex’s best batsman this season by quite some distance, beginning with an excellent knock of 165 against Somerset and last week registering a crucial 95 against an imposing new-ball attack of Kemar Roach and Reece Topley.

Haseeb Hameed

After a difficult few years at Lancashire, Hameed is finally finding his feet again at Nottinghamshire, for whom he now averages 48.25 in eight matches since signing ahead of the 2020 season. He also holds the record for the most balls faced so far this season (845).

The bolter to keep an eye on

Jake Libby

In 13 red-ball innings since the start of last year, Libby has hit 816 runs at an average of 68 and notched up two centuries already this season. His unbeaten 180 not out against the defending champions Essex saw him not only carry his bat but also play the second-longest innings in County Championship history as he spent more than 11 hours at the crease. His move from Notts to Worcestershire appears to have been transformative.

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