The metamorphosis of the English line-up

Nick Compton. Joe Root. Michael Carberry. Sam Robson. Jonathan Trott. Adam Lyth. Moeen Ali. Alex Hales. Ben Duckett. Haseeb Hameed. Keaton Jennings. Mark Stoneman? Wondering why all these names have been written above? Well, these are the Test opening partners of Alastair Cook since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Surprised?
You should be. 11 opening batsmen in a span of five years deserves a decent amount of this human emotion. But, such has been the level of transition in the England Test squad.
Had England been given the option of a 3-1 series victory over South Africa before the start of the series, they would have excepted it gleefully. South Africa came back from behind to level the series at Trent Bridge. With Faf du Plessis back in England, it seemed as if the result of the series would go down till the wire.
With victories at The Oval (by 239 runs) and Old Trafford (by 177 runs), England sealed the series without much discomfort. It was also the most desired start for England under their new Test captain, Joe Root. Having said that, the questions regarding the English playing eleven for the first test against West Indies were still doing the rounds.
Three batting positions in England's Test batting line-up are still up for grabs. The queries regarding Alastair Cook's opening batsman, their No. 3 and No. 5, have up to this time not been solved.
Haseeb Hameed impressed one and all during the tour of India last year but was sidelined due to an injury. His replacement, Keaton Jennings, scored a century on debut against the same opposition at Mumbai. England lost that series 0-4, but the prospect of them finding two solid openers looked bright.
Apparently, Hameed's domestic form deteriorated, which made Jennings the clear winner for the opener's slot against the Proteas. His returns of 127 runs at an average of 15.87 in four Test matches have brought back England to the same phase, a phase where they are still trying to find an opening partner for Cook.

Stoneman is in line for a Test debut at Birmingham.

Root's Yorkshire team-mate, Gary Ballance, was selected to bat at No. 3 for the series against South Africa. Ballance at No. 3 and Root at No. 4 have been a tried and tested combination for Yorkshire. Ballance scored 85 runs in two matches at an average of 21.25 before succumbing to an injury, leaving another void in the eleven. Essex's Tom Westley was handed a Test debut in the third Test. Similar to his role at Essex, he had to bat at No. 3 to an opening pair comprising of Cook. Westley scored 122 runs in two matches at an average of 30.50 with a highest score of 59.
Going with an extra spinner, England played Liam Dawson at No. 8 in the first two matches against South Africa. His indifferent form forced them to include another debutant along side Westley at The Oval in the form of David Malan. This 29-year old left-hand Middlesex batsman scored 78 (44) with the help of 12 fours and two sixes against South Africa on his T20I debut earlier in the summer. In the two Test matches that he played, batting at No. 5, he scored 35 runs at an average of 8.75.
England have recently announced their side for the series against West Indies. In what was a much-anticipated move, Mark Stoneman, the Surrey opening batsman, has been included in the team. Since his shift from Durham to Surrey in this season, he has scored 1,033 runs at an average of 57.38 in this county season. He has been given an opportunity at the expense of Jennings. If he gets an opportunity in the first Test against West Indies at Birmingham (the first day/night test in the country), which he most probably will, he will become Cook's 12th opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss.
Westley and Malan have been retained, which gives them one more series to seal their berth in the plane to Australia for The Ashes. Other notable inclusions in the squad are Chris Woakes and Mason Crane. Woakes will be making his international comeback after a recovery from a side strain that did not allow him to take part in the ICC Champions Trophy held in June. 20-year old legbreak bowler, Crane, has received his maiden Test call-up. He has replaced Dawson, his Sussex team-mate, in the team.
With every passing day, the time left for the tour of Australia is decreasing. In such a case, England would be more than just desperate to build a settled eleven. Because so much of chopping and changing is not advised for any top international side, the England team management as well as the fans would be hoping that the current set of players stake their claim in the team.

Photo Credits - ESPN cricinfo.


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