Rory Burns and Dom Sibley: Is England’s search for a new opening duo over?
Is Burns and Sibley solved the 8-year conundrum finally for England?
Updated - Aug 2, 2020 5:18 pm
After opening together 132 times in Tests and compiling a wealth of 5353 runs, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook parted ways in August 2012. It was a matter of privilege for the England Test team to have such a dependable first-line of defense. The critical job that the pair executed was indispensable in England’s journey to the pinnacle of ICC Test Rankings.
The small matter of replacing Strauss turned out to be unattainable for England. While Cook firmly held the fort at one end, the Three Lions tried and tested 12 partners alongside him, including the likes of Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Mark Stoneman, Sam Robson, and Keaton Jennings among others. However, none of them could even reach the 1000-run mark in Test cricket before they were dropped from the team.
Cook, who had already acquired the status of a legend, hung his boots in September 2018. The fifth-highest Test run-getter of all time said good-bye in some fashion. In his final knock, he treated the crowd at The Oval with a delightful 147 against a good Indian attack.
While on one hand, England celebrated the career of their long-serving opener and captain, on the other hand, they were hit with the realization that the void, created by the departure of Strauss, had now deepened.
The inevitable search
In search of a new opening duo, England mixed and matched, and tried a plethora of players with varying styles of play. This list involved a returning Jennings, an unorthodox Rory Burns, an aggressive Jason Roy, a stylish Joe Denly, a stubborn Dominic Sibley, and a technical Zak Crawley. While some of these players were also given chances lower down the order, none of them could retain their place in the lineup, barring two – Burns and Sibley. England appears to have found an old-fashioned but a steadier left-right opening partnership in them.
Recently, Strauss along with Michael Atherton was giving a masterclass on the art of opening the batting in a Test match. The illustrious opener said, “[Opening is] not so much the shots you play, it’s the shots you don’t play – especially in the first 10 or 15 overs. That means no big drives on the up through extra cover, no straight-bat shots through the offside off the back foot.
“Probably the most important [thing] is you’ve got to have stomach for the fight. You don’t see too many openers last a long period of time if they’re a bit flighty, they don’t fancy the short ball or don’t relish the challenge.”
Burns and Sibley are different yet quite similar to each other. Burns has a relatively wide range of shots in his armory while Sibley depends heavily on the on-side to score his runs. They have different albeit strange techniques. Juxtaposed to Sibley’s open-chested stance, Burns gets ready in a very fidgety manner and has a stiffer stance.
Although they’re not pleasing to the eye in the conventional manner, both of them got an entry into the side after scoring a myriad of domestic runs. Burns has 9296 first-class runs at a healthy average of 42.25 while Sibley, who is almost five years younger to his compatriot, has 4862 runs at an average of 41.91.
More importantly, they boast of the attributes that Strauss talked about in his masterclass. Both of them have a temperament that makes them well-suited to Test cricket. They’re patient, gusty, and prepared to fight it out in tough, swinging conditions.
Their abilities might make them old-fashioned but it can be argued that they are exactly what a team of lavishing players like Ben Stokes, Jos Butler, and Ollie Pope among others needs. The duo also seems to compliment each other. Their recent opening partnership of 114 in the third Test against the West Indies at the Old Trafford was the first 100-run stand at home by England’s openers since 2016 and only the third since Strauss’ retirement.
“Me and [Dom Sibley] have got a very good relationship away from cricket and obviously know each other really well from our Surrey days. [Sibley] has adapted very well to it. That’s very pleasing. For us to put on a partnership, you hear statistics like that, and it is a really good thing that we’ve been able to do it,” commented Burns after the stumps on Day 3.
Good days for England ahead?
Since 2018 and before the debut of Sibley, the English openers averaged 26.72 with a dismissal rate of about 61. However, after Sibley’s arrival, this average has climbed up to 43 while the dismissal rate has risen over 100. In the post-Strauss era, their average of almost 43 is only bettered by the pairs of Cook and Compton and Cook and Haseeb Hameed. However, neither Compton nor Hameed could carve out a place in the XI for a substantial period of time.
Also, the duo of Burns and Sibley have improved the overall English batting unit and made it more durable. Since they started playing together in November 2019, England have reached a score of 400 four times. On another occasion, they declared on 391 for 8. Before that, England had managed a total of 400 merely once since the start of 2018.
This eccentric pair still has plenty to prove but they have started well and shown positive signs. One would assume that it would only be in favor of England to give them a real go.
~Written by Saurabh Nagpal