How many Tests before you can fairly judge a batsman?

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Photo by Sarah Ansell
Photo by Sarah Ansell

Based on their returns in this series, many are calling for some combination of Alex Hales, Nick Compton and James Taylor to be dropped. Then again, based on their returns in this series it’s equally valid to suggest that Alastair Cook and James Anderson should be dropped.

It’s almost as if four Tests aren’t quite enough to fully gauge the worth of a cricketer. You might be forming an opinion about each of them, but why the need to commit to deeming that particular shade of grey to be either black or white? It seems like firm opinions are everything these days. You have to commit to a position.

After four Tests in a series against England in 2004, AB de Villiers had made just the one fifty – the same as Hales, Compton and Taylor have managed. De Villiers then made 92 and 109 in the fifth Test.

While there’s no universally agreed upon acceptable timespan for gauging the worth of a Test cricketer, it’s also worth noting that Steve Smith and Kane Williamson averaged 29 and 30 respectively after 11 Tests. The former wasn’t even considered a batsman.

Hashim Amla, another one of the best batsmen in the world, was averaging just 25 after the first 15 Tests of his career (and had generally looked a great deal worse than that). That’s a sizeable sample, but he got better. He’s great precisely because of how he responded to what confronted him, adapting his technique and approach based on his experiences.

Can you react and adapt within a four-Test series comprising two sets of back-to-back Tests? For once we’ll spurn grey areas and say no.


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  1. The opposite’s also true, though. A lot of players will have bad averages after a few Tests because they’re bad players – relative to the quality of other Test players of course.

    Raises the question: how much rope do we give Hales, say, to hang himself? Given things like his run of low scores, his apparent technical frailties outside off-stoomp, the current crop of available no-hopeners (there we go) and the fact that most of them seem to have frailties outside off-stoomp, the fact that he’s succeeded phenomenally in white-ball, and everything else?

    If he struggles against Pakistan at home, what then? Sri Lanka at home – what then? When do the selectors finally decide he’s not going to be the next Kane Williamson if his scores continue to remain low?

    TL;DR version: four Tests is too few. How many is enough?

    1. Typo: for “succeeded phenomenally in white ball”, read “succeeded phenomenally in T20s and is showing promise in what is becoming essentially a longer version of that format”. Sorry, slip of the fingers.

      1. He’ll have to fail at home against Sri Lanka first, due to the linear progression of time and all that.

  2. Fans are, as ever, entitled to their opinions. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Hales has what it takes to be a Test opener. Thought so before this series.

    Maybe the selectors see something different. But I suspect he’s there because they’ve tried most other people.

      1. The unanswerable question. You have to trust the selectors’ instincts. Vaughan and Trescothick had middling FC records before Fletcher took a punt on them. Chris Adams made his debut around the same time and was given five Tests. Hussain said Fletcher spotted a flaw in his technique early on and just knew he wasn’t good enough for the top level. Ditto Gavin Hamilton, and I suppose numerous others from the previous decade.

        Different rules seem to apply to bowlers. Why was Simon Kerrigan only given one Test? Would he have gained it if they’d stuck with him?

  3. It’s an interesting point, and I think it almost depends on how you feel about the individual player. For what its worth, I would go with the same XI (minus Woakes) for the Sri Lanka series.

    However, it sort of feels like we have probably seen what we need to of Hales, yet Taylor feels more worthy of a bit of a run. I have no discernible reason for thinking this.

    As for Vaughan, he might like to consider that he was in the team for about 2 years before he actually did anything noteworthy. You could make the same summation about probably half of the “successful” England players from the turn of the century onwards. Trescothick, Cook, Strauss, KP, Trott and Root all took to it pretty much straight away, but the likes of Harmison, Flintoff, Vaughan and Broad all did bugger all for their first dozen Tests at least and even Bell, Collingwood, Anderson, Prior and Hoggard had times where you had to suck it up and bear with them for a while. In the current team, Bairstow and Stokes have both taken their time to really start to produce.

    Interestingly, one guy that did pretty much produce from the off and continued to do so was Ballance (Test batting average at number 3 – 50.82) who now finds himself out on his ear. Where the hell that fits into these theories I have no idea.

    Long and short of it – 4 Tests COULD be enough. If I played 4 Tests for England, I am pretty sure that by the end of them it would be pretty clear that I wasnt up to it. However, you have to be sure, and if England were to dispense with Hales he certainly shouldn’t be cast into the abyss forever.

    All this ends with Ian Bell trying and failing at opening the batting at some point, I just know it.

  4. Bayliss is rumbling about Compton and Hales switching places. While I like the idea of a dasher and a blocker at the top of the order (see: Australia until Rogers retired), Hales hasn’t exactly been dashing anywhere except back to the pavilion as of late. He also plays at number 3 in county cricket. Meanwhile Compton averages 30-something as Test opener, which is about 40 more than Hales at the moment.

    It might be soporific, but it might work.

    1. Promote Stokes to open!

      Everybody else then stays the same, bring Buttler in to keep wickets (ditch Alex Wails in agony/Ails/Flails at a wide one/Fails to trouble scorers/loses-his-Bails)

      Oh and ditch Chris Woakes. Chris JOKES, anyone?

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