The independent voice of cricket


The Crawley Conundrum: Who will open for England in the Ashes?

The Crawley Conundrum: Who will open for England in the Ashes?
by Patrick Ardill 3 minute read

England’s first Ashes Test is less than two months away, with their most pressing selection dilemma concerning who will open the batting – Patrick Ardill takes a look at who the contenders are

The lock

There is no question over Ben Duckett’s position at the top of the England order for the start of the summer. Since his return to the Test fold, Duckett has bludgeoned 508 runs at 56.4, all at a startling 90+ strike rate. He fits perfectly into England’s new mould, proactive and confident – his most eye-catching knocks have all exhibited his proficiency against spin, sweeping both sides of the wicket, as well as his low-risk approach to facing pace.

A case could be made that, without him, England’s winter could’ve gone remarkably differently. A century in his first innings back in the side at Rawalpindi, 82* from just 78 in Karachi, and a splendid 84 at Mount Manganui in February were all integral to three spectacular victories.


He is yet to play a Test in England, with doubts over how his game will hold up against seamers on green English pitches. But, he has more than earned his chance to prove his doubters wrong. His record in the County Championship over the last few seasons is exemplary, and he has started this season in similar fashion. Fifty plus scores have come in all three matches he has played so far, and now an imperious 177 against Middlesex.

The case for Crawley

Zak Crawley’s rapid century at the weekend pushed his first class average back up above 30. As one side of the never-ending debate, that’s simply not good enough for a Test match opening bat. However, his innings against Essex on Saturday showed exactly why there is a debate in the first place.

It was the kind of knock that very few around the County circuit are capable of. He smashed a hundred off 93-balls without appearing to slog or give any semblance that his England place was hanging by a thread. In a way, like Duckett, he also epitomises the Stokes/McCullum approach – it’s not about what you have done, it’s about what you can do.

Crawley has been insistent that his defensive technique, particularly on the front foot, is solid, amid question marks around how it would fare against an experienced Australian attack – particularly after he struggled against a depleted New Zealand one. Brendon McCullum is determined to put faith in Crawley, claiming that inconsistencies are natural for an opener – which of course is not incorrect.

And so the debate rolls on.

The potential promotions

There have been suggestions that Ben Stokes could join Duckett at the top of the order if Crawley loses his place.

Since taking over the captaincy, Stokes’s batting average has dropped to 35.9 and he has been criticised for appearing non-plussed about the value of his wicket. His role with the ball could be severely limited over the summer, as he battles with an ongoing knee injury. If he isn’t able to bowl, there’s little need for him to come in down at six. A promotion could also solve dispute over where Jonny Bairstow can slot back into the side. With an in-form middle-order, the only other place for Stokes to fill in is at the top.

Either that or Bairstow himself could also partner Duckett to allow Foakes to retain his place. However, Bairstow has never opened in first-class cricket and his talents are best used in the middle or lower order.

The only batter in England’s middle-order with significant opening experience is Joe Root. He opened the batting early on in his international career but hasn’t done so since 2016. But given Root’s importance to the side and stability at four, there’s little value in rehashing old ground. Similar can be said of suggestions that Harry Brook should be moved up to the top. After such an incredible start to his Test career, why change anything?

The county candidates

There’s no bigger occasion than an Ashes in which to win your maiden Test cap. But there are a few names from outside the current England group that could demand that selection.

Keaton Jennings was the next rung on the ladder for the tour of Pakistan and a big century against Somerset in the third round of the Championship continued his status as such. However, he appeared to injure his hamstring during that knock, with the extent of his injury currently unknown.

Tom Haines has been a regular feature in Lions tours of late and has averaged 48.1 in the County Championship since the start of 2021. Rob Key even took to Twitter last year to describe him as “a bloody good player”. Haines is probably near the front of the queue, if Crawley’s position is indeed in contention.

Haseeb Hameed and Alex Lees might have missed their chances but their names will no doubt be thrown around in relevant selection conversations. Both have had solid starts to the first class season.

While it now appears unlikely that Crawley will lose his spot in the side, at least for the first Ashes Test, there are plenty of names and combinations for England to choose from if he is left out at any point in the summer.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99