Which bowlers should England pick to cure their terrible top order batting

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The second Ashes Test sees England arrive at the ground where a far better batting side than them was bowled out for 36 this time last year. It therefore stands to reason that the debate is about exactly which combination of tail-enders they should pick.

England are not a great batting side. England are not even a good batting side. England have one magnificent batter, in the form of his life, and they’re still losing just about every Test that they play because they can’t put enough runs on the board.

And you know what? They’re probably picking the right players.

We had a go with the BBC’s “pick your England Ashes team” tool earlier this week and the thing that quite quickly struck us that there isn’t really much thinking to do until you get to the bowlers.

Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed are almost certainly the best openers. Dawid Malan is a seasoned pro with a half decent record Down Under. Joe Root is Joe Root. Ben Stokes has the ability if not the current form. Ollie Pope is the young guy with the incredible first-class record.

So already you’re down to number seven and that’s at best a choice between the guy more likely to hit a fifty (Jos Buttler) and the guy more likely to make a pair but with a fractionally greater chance of making a hundred (Jonny Bairstow).

We’d stick with Buttler and so our first-choice England batting line-up is the same one that collapsed twice in the first Test.

And what collapses they were

Last year India went to Adelaide for a day/night Test and got bowled out for 36. Some people thought this meant they were terrible, but writing at the time we pointed out it was an entirely one-dimensional collapse.

India didn’t actually do an enormous amount wrong because they simply didn’t have time. They lost 10 wickets to Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – two of the most accurate bowlers in the world – when they were bowling with a new pink ball on a challenging pitch. Clearly in agreement with us, India went on to win the series.

If there’s a crumb of comfort England can take, it’s that Hazlewood won’t be playing. Unfortunately, while it was really just one thing that India failed to deal with, England’s batters have been failing to deal with anything at all really.

In Brisbane they were bowled out by everyone. Cummins, Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc rushed through them in the first innings and in the second they lost four wickets to Nathan Lyon. Cameron Green only had to bowl 15 overs, but still emerged with three for nothing.

Only once since Zak Crawley made 267 against Pakistan have England passed 300 without Root contributing at least 100. That innings was 303 against New Zealand. They were then bowled out for 120 in their second innings and lost by eight wickets.

That’s the situation.

So which bowlers should they pick?

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  1. Surprised I haven’t seen Bairstow to open being suggested. Probably because it’s a terrible idea. But if it was worth trying him in an Ashes series in England, in conditions where Warner was a walking wicket, it’s at least worth considering trying him in Australia, where Warner seems to do alright. I know, I know, they’re not the same player just because they both hit the ball hard.

    Hameed and Burns just has a horrible feeling of hopelessness about it. At least Bairstow would improve the fielding.

    1. We honestly think that Burns and Hameed might work out if they can scrape through this series. You can pretty much bank on Bairstow being suggested in a Test or two though if one of them fails to make a score. It’s a long series. There’s no rush with these things.

      1. A big advantage of analytics is that everyone now knows that Hameed’s game isn’t suited to Australian pitches, so failing there shouldn’t mean he gets dropped. Still not ideal, I suppose.

  2. Is it a coincidence that we’re struggling to identify good openers at a time when opening in county cricket in England is more of a lottery than it’s ever been? Hameed’s been picked more for his runs in India five years ago than his runs in county cricket, and Burns plays at the Oval. Can openers from other counties realistically hope to have sufficient consistency over a number of years to make their case?

  3. Surely, among the endless statistics, there must be some way of quantifying how much Rory Burns detracts from the team? As far as I could tell, in the first game he managed to miss the ball — initially with bat, then with his hands in the slips — the first two times it came near him. I appreciate that he is, arguably, failing less than anyone else with a bat that isn’t Joe Root. But isn’t his a multidimensional failing? Anyone in this lineup can make a duck or fiddle needlessly outside off-stump, but how many of them can do so while looking like an angry hornet is buzzing around their left eye, and then launch themselves into some slip-based slapstick, all the while looking like someone who sells stolen lawnmowers behind the pub?

    1. He’s the anti-Vince, in that he looks so terrible that it’s assumed he’s a hard-working, salt of the earth character who has made the most of his talent, and will come good when the chips are down. At which time the salt will presumably come in handy.

      Though while being unstylish is in general a good career move, you could argue he’s gone too far in the other direction. Never go full etc, etc.

  4. In other (ridiculous) Ashes news, I have just heard the worst Andrew Strauss impersonation ever. The content of it did make me giggle all the same.

    1. Didn’t really think to attempt a Strauss until after we realised we’d already been putting on a voice.

      Missed opportunity really because obviously our Strauss is absolutely bang on.

  5. Root must be setting all sorts of records for biggest discrepancy between one player and the rest of his team. He’s still a rubbish captain though.

  6. It’s now been 492 days since England last won a Test in which Joe Root didn’t score a hundred, in case anyone’s lost count. That was the Test in which Chris Woakes scored 84*, which presumably won’t happen again for a while.

    Separately, is anyone else less unconvinced that England’s biggest chance is in the day-night Test? Australia have played eight day-nighters and won all eight of them. Are we sure that bowler-friendly conditions are what this England team really need more of?

  7. I base my judgments of players entirely on the basis of a few deliveries I have watched them bowl/bat. So in that spirit, I declare that Hameed will go on to become a bankable opener and Burns will fall by the wayside.

    There, you have it.

    1. I’ve seen quite a lot of both of them yet still I agree with your cursory judgment, DC.

      I like the idea of a 4 am test match start more than a midnight start, so England have got to start showing in day/night tests in Oz. England are due in that regard, that’s for sure. As indeed is every side in the world other than Australia.

  8. Elite Eating in a Restaurant Right Before the Test by Cummings, there.

    The return of Captain Sandpaper, blech.

  9. Shane Warne just said: “Remember, if you’re not sure who is ahead in the game, you add two wickets to the score and 20 runs.”

    Is that a thing? Pretty sure that’s not a thing.

      1. He’s now saying he wants to see the bowlers delivering ‘150kph Fajitas’.

        O my Arlott and my CMJ long ago!

      2. Well the point is it is very much not the BT Sports commentary because they decided against doing that. That they then decided they would do their own commentary whenever Michael Vaughan was due on only underlines the cheapskatery.

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