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‘I was spewing’: How Alastair Cook’s advice to Rory Burns backfired

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

England opener Rory Burns has revealed how he struggled with the transition between Test and county cricket after his first winter with the national side.

Burns made his England debut in Sri Lanka towards the end of 2018, and had a middling start to life at the top level. He passed fifty just twice, averaging 25, and on returning to action for Surrey felt the dual pressure of being “the England incumbent” while still not having fully established himself.

“Coming off two tours, you’ve played cricket for England, but you don’t feel like an England cricketer,” he said on the Two Hacks, One Pro podcast. “You’ve been in and around it, you’ve been part of it, but you’re not in and amongst it. Then coming back you almost feel like you’ve got a point to prove. Instead of the year before when you’re carrying the baggage of the team, scoring runs for the guys, putting up numbers naturally for yourself but it’s in the team scenario, you come back and all of a sudden, people think you’re the England incumbent.”

A chat with from former England opener Alastair Cook heaped more pressure on the early stages of the county season, and left Burns feeling angry with himself after a soft dismissal.

“I remember Cooky had a chat with me in the West Indies at the end of it, just randomly came to the hotel and said ‘Everyone will be looking at that first score of the season.’ So I was like ‘right, better get a score then!’” said Burns. “And then in the second dig [against Essex] I made 98 and got caught at silly point, which I don’t think I’ve ever done in my career, to [Simon] Harmer, and I was spewing. It’s the first time in recent times that I’ve reacted in a really emotional fashion because in your head you’ve sort of built that hype up that there is that [need to get a] big first score.”

Burns found more qualified success from then on, averaging 38 before England’s first Test of the summer against Ireland, when twin scores of 6 left his place hanging by a thread. He responded with a century in the first Test of that summer’s Ashes, and has now become the Test player giving out advice rather than just listening to it, as he did to former Surrey and current England teammate Dom Sibley.

“It is different, and it’s almost harder when you’ve had a little taste of it to then go back down,” he said of the challenges of Test and county cricket. “I remember Sibbo asked me on this tour [to South Africa], does county cricket become a lot easier now that you’ve played international cricket? And I was like, no, it’s just completely different. It’s a different style. You go back to it and you’re almost tripping yourself up because you feel like you should be scoring millions of runs, you feel like you should be doing something different, when actually you should keep on doing the same and doing what you’ve done.”

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