After another Test match in which England’s top three have failed to post a decisive score, it feels that time has perhaps run out for the current early-innings plan. At Trent Bridge in the first game of a five-match series against India, Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley posted 0, 18 and 27 respectively in the first innings, and 18, 28 and 6 in the second. Burns, after a successful series against New Zealand, has that strangest of Test match accolades of “credit in the bank”, and will probably keep his place.
But England will be fretting more than ever over the misfortunes of Sibley and Crawley. The latter, since his stunning double-century against Pakistan last summer, averages 11.14 from the subsequent 14 innings. Sibley averages 30.8 in his 20 Tests, and his knock of 28 in the second innings included a contribution of 18 to a partnership of 89 with Joe Root. Although incredibly slow, Sibley at least offered the time and delivery-consuming support that Root’s brilliance so desperately required.
However, Sibley’s obduracy is beginning to become an issue, as was seen in his dismissal. Sibley himself feels the scoreboard pressure that he puts himself under, and on this occasion drove at a back of a length delivery that nipped in and could not have been less available for that sort of shot. His own indecision means that his place as England’s opener is unsustainable, unless he can completely shut out the peripheral noise.
England have three basic choices. They can stick as they are, which would more than likely leave them two down for less than fifty more often than not, as they have been on 14 occasions in the 18 innings they have played this year. They can also move Zak Crawley up to open, giving Rory Burns a more aggressive foil and perhaps preventing England from digging themselves into a hole of dot balls.
They can also recall the resurgent Haseeb Hameed, who this year has found runs in the restricted first-class and List A schedules. Hameed, previously dubbed ‘Baby Boycott’ by his England colleagues, would not represent a shift in attitude from England, whose hunkering-down approach has only very sporadically seen them post the big first-innings runs they so desire. With Crawley so emphatically out of nick, however, Hameed seems the obvious choice to turn the tide and relieve the pressure on England’s lone and shining light Root. As the Ashes comes into view, it is surely now or never.