It was a gorgeous afternoon for England’s latest batting collapse. The sun shone, Edgbaston revelled in a beer-fest and song-fest as only Edgbaston can, and after New Zealand had taken a first-innings lead of 85, England promptly and completely disintegrated.
No sooner has Joe Root sat down, he has to pad up. If England’s top three batsmen auditioned to become bouncers, in the sense of security men, they would not earn much of a bonus because they are not protecting their boss.
And with only five Tests to go against India before the next Ashes, England’s head coach has to restructure the batting.
Whisper it not at Edgbaston because Dom Sibley represents Warwickshire, but he is the opener who has to go. The ball which got him caught at third slip was a fine Matt Henry delivery, bouncing on fourth stump, but in a Test series in Australia an England opener will find that to be almost a stock ball from Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
Any batsman will be dismissed by such a ball occasionally. Sibley’s issue is that his technique does not give him the best chance of surviving it. He stays chest-on while bringing his bat down from gully and across the line.
Sibley can point to a couple of centuries on the Lions tour of Australia in early 2020, including one in the “Test” against Australia A in Melbourne; but the longer he goes on, the more his technique will be analysed and his departures from orthodoxy detected.
Sibley should still go to Australia as part of the extended squad of around 25 players that England plan to take, so they can play warm-up games among themselves rather than against the bunch of 20-year-olds that Cricket Australia put up last time for opposition; but as a reserve opener. For even if Sibley survives the new ball, he is still limited in the strokes he can play. After 80 overs, by the second Kookaburra, England might not be out of sight. His 116 in Melbourne took 277 balls.
Zak Crawley was dismissed cheaply yet again, but the basics are there. To succeed in Australia, Crawley has to go back to the nets, Sibley to the drawing-board. Even in this brief innings Crawley played enough straight-drives to deter New Zealand’s opening bowlers from pitching the ball up to swing. Crawley, being younger and more orthodox than Sibley, has growth potential. Will he be bounced if he opens England’s batting in Brisbane? Naturally, but he demonstrated in the last Johannesburg Test that he can hook well, and down, off the front foot.
Dawid Malan would be my choice for No 3 against India and in Australia. So many of England’s batsmen in this series have got themselves out by driving at the ball swinging away from them, loose and callow in shot-selection, but Malan on England’s last tour had the strength of mind – especially in the Perth Test – to limit himself to three scoring shots, and do that all day, as Alastair Cook used to, and as Root did in his 254 against Pakistan, if all too seldom in the five years since.
Malan would have to bin the World T20 finals in return for regaining his Test place. He might be on the verge of losing his T20 place in any event, as there are quicker starters against spin – and number threes who could also offer a couple of overs of spin, like Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, or Root himself.
When Ben Stokes returns at No 5, and Jos Buttler at No 7, there will be room for either Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence.
Both have so many attractive, strokeplaying qualities – and are, as yet, so young. If Lawrence were to come in at 250 for four, he would take the game away more rapidly than Pope; but they are rather more liable to come in at 100 for four, in which case Pope would take fewer risks and come closer to consistency.
In his last three innings Lawrence has got himself out twice by chasing his second ball and in between played some shots that none of his contemporaries could. Lawrence would be a luxury, and if England cannot afford any luxuries now, there is little Stokes cannot cure in Australia if he senses that his time as a batsman has come.