Let Sibley fiddle while Rory burns: England have no reason to change top order at home

Guerilla Cricket’s writers were asked to narrow the England 15 down to the XI they’d like to see step out to face New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2. In the sixth of the series Guerilla’s master of detail Nakul Pande calls for continuity in the batting but embraces rotation of the seamers

Openers: Burns and Sibley

England’s first-choice opening pair. Both have years of Championship excellence behind them, and at least against seamers have demonstrated the solidity and phlegm necessary to survive and score in this opener-unfriendly phase of Test cricket’s history. After slim returns against Pakistan, missing the Sri Lanka series for the birth of his first child and being dropped against India, Burns has re-established himself as the most consistent opener in England. He has five fifties and an unbeaten hundred in his last six Championship innings, and in the 12 months leading up to the Pakistan series averaged 45 with eight fifty-plus scores from 11 Tests.

While the resurgence of the now gloriously coiffured Haseeb Hameed is cause for celebration, the only thing that is likely to keep Sibley from the XI is if there are after-effects of the broken finger that has enabled him to play only two Championship games for Warwickshire. If fit, he plays.

Middle order: Crawley, Root, Lawrence, Pope

After struggling this winter, Crawley has this season shown glimpses of the authority that got everyone so excited about him in the first place. He hasn’t scored a Championship hundred but has three fifties against decent attacks, and wicket-keeper hosiery accidents (of which more later) mean that his only serious challenger for first-drop is otherwise engaged. Lawrence could not have timed his breathtaking 152* against Derbyshire, including THAT falling-over straight drive, any better, has rarely failed all season, and was one of few to come out of India with any credit in the bank. With Ben Stokes injured and Chris Woakes and Sam Curran resting post-IPL, there isn’t an all-rounder to take the spot of the extra specialist batter. So why not let the talented but still callow Pope rebuild his international reputation after he spent the winter being stylishly mugged by R Ashwin?

Wicketkeeper and No 7: James Bracey (international debut)

Ben Foakes’s painful recreation of Risky Business – and who amongst us wouldn’t appreciate seeing that. I MEAN, LOOK AT HIM – means that England have none of their top three Test keepers available. The last time none of the rested Jos Buttler, the very-dropped Jonny Bairstow and the hamstrung Foakes was England’s regular Test keeper (we’re not counting the Ollie Pope interregnum) was in July 2014. The last time England started a series with a debutant wicketkeeper – Tim Ambrose, if you’re playing along at home – he was keeping to an opening attack of Steve Harmison and Ryan Sidebottom. But Bracey is an able keeper, and a good enough batter that had he not been needed to take the gloves could well have been batting No 3 in this Test. He is averaging 48 this season despite combining batting at three and keeping wicket, scores fluently on both sides of the wicket, and combines that with what has been statistically proven to be the best defence in the County Championship over the last three years.

Bowlers: Robinson (international debut), Leach, Broad, Stone

There is talk England may not play a spinner in the first Test at a tweaker-unfriendly Lord’s, but I would very rarely advocate for such a one-dimensional attack, and Leach offers both control and wickets on most surfaces. This could become even more important without a seam-bowling all-rounder to bowl the overs that an opening bowler should not. As for the seamers, such is England’s depth that even with Jofra Archer out till at least the India Tests, this squad has six seamers who all merit game-time, and it is essential in this busy year that they get that time sooner rather than later. Pair off the six in this squad – the legends Broad and James Anderson, the tall and accurate-with-absurd-numbers Robinson and Craig Overton, the fast and scary Stone and Mark Wood – and you’ve got two balanced seam attacks, one for each Test. These are rare riches – don’t fear the rotation, embrace it.

Broadcast Schedule

India v England 2024 Test Series
IND v ENG 4th Test, Ranchi
23rd February to 27th February
Start time: 4:00 am GMT
IND v ENG 5th Test, Dharamsala
7th March to 11th March
Start time: 4:00 am GMT