Waugh games: Mark derides England’s opening pair as having “no quality” in Ashes salvo

Dom Sibley doesn’t seem the sort of character to let criticism get under his skin. Even his greatest admirers will concede that he is not the prettiest to watch. Very much an old-fashioned opener with the appetite to bat all day, his style is built around attrition rather than aggression. Crease occupation and patience have marked his higher scoring England efforts so far, not flamboyance and dash.

With Sir Alistair Cook retired, England have had a few false starts looking to find a reliable pair at the top of the order and for now, it seems, that Sibley and Rory Burns are the occupants most likely to make the Ashes, providing they come through the summer series against India well enough.

There are still five months to go before England fly to Australia, but that hasn’t stopped former Australia all-rounder Mark Waugh voicing his view that Sibley “is not a Test batsman” as he does not play shots which can hurt the bowlers. Waugh added that he wonders how the 25-year-old reached the top level of cricket.

“There’s just no quality there,” said Waugh, speaking on the Road to the Ashes podcast. “I don’t know why there’s no depth in batting in the English line-up. To me, James Vince is not a bad player. I know he’s played 13 Tests, but he’s got a touch of class. Someone like Dom Sibley, he can’t score.

“You can’t come to Australia with Burns and Sibley opening the batting, because they can’t score. He hasn’t got any shots, Dom Sibley. He’s not a Test player, and quite frankly I don’t know how he got to that level. There’s got to be a shortage of players there.”

The former Essex and Aussie strokeplayer who played 128 Tests in the baggy green cap continued: “Dom Sibley, I just don’t know how he can play Test cricket. As a bowler, you worry about batsmen that can hurt you. No one’s thought of this. The England middle-order are suffering, because all the bowlers who play against England have got their tail up and confidence up because they are not getting hurt by Burns and Sibley.

“They can’t punish them; they can’t hurt them on any level. All they can do is survive and see off the shine. That’s no good. You have to put pressure on the bowler, and these two can’t do that.”

Both Burns and Sibley hail from Epsom, the home of the Derby, yet it is fair to say that neither could be described as thoroughbreds stylistically speaking (although Burns is working on growing his pony tail).

Dom Sibley has played 20 Test matches and scored 985 runs at an average of 30.78. He has two hundreds to his name but the last one came versus West Indies in Manchester in July 2020. In his last nine innings, Sibley has registered seven single-digit scores. Rory Burns has played 25 Test matches and scored 1,529 runs at an average of 33.23.

Does Mark Waugh have a point? Burns came into some decent form against Test world champions New Zealand with 132 and 81. Sibley, too, managed a couple of scores, including that 60 not out in the second innings at Lords, but those runs came in a tortuous 207-ball knock as England showed no ambition to chase Kane Williamson’s generous declaration target.

After the travails of India, England, for now, are looking to the future trying to promote old-fashioned values of crease occupation and platform building ahead of dash and derring-do. A possible overreaction, but one that many consider essential for openers whose preparation for a summer series is on treacherous April and May wickets, thanks to the ECB’s mid-summer prioritisation of white-ball cricket.

Mark Waugh, does of course, have the credentials to back up his point of view, even if, in the famous opinion of Jimmy Ormond, he “wasn’t even the best player in his family”. But Waugh’s 128 Tests to Ormond’s two definitely give him the edge in that argument.

However, during the summer series with India, one senses that Chris Silverwood and Joe Root will be looking for both productivity and purpose from their opening pair, in order to head down under with some confidence.

I wonder what Steve Waugh thinks.

Broadcast Schedule

England v Pakistan 2024 T20 series
1st T20, ENG v PAK, Headingley
22nd May
Start time: 6:30 pm BST