To much fanfare, Andrew Strauss announced his retirement from professional cricket on Wednesday. Amongst all the discussion over whether this opens the door for Kevin Pietersen’s imminent return and over how big a part the whole Pietersen saga played in Strauss’ departure, an important issue has been largely glossed over. Just who is going to be England’s new Test opener?
An obvious place to start is with Michael Carberry, who was England’s opener for one match when Strauss sat out the tour of Bangladesh at the beginning of 2010. He didn’t fare too badly, scoring 30 and 34, but was dropped for the second Test as England altered the balance of their side.
Unfortunately, later that same year, Carberry was dealt a devastating blow, being diagnosed with a career-threatening blood clot in his lung, and was forced to pull out of the England Performance Programme tour to Australia. Tenaciously, he fought back and returned for his county Hampshire midway through the 2011 season, hitting a career-best 300 not out in his third Championship game back, and ended the season with a first-class average of over 56. He was rewarded for his perseverance with a call-up to the England Lions side that played the West Indians at the start of this season, but has played only four first-class matches since then due to a knee injury.
Factors counting against Carberry are his age – he is almost 32 – his not too flattering injury record, and the fact that there are doubts over whether he can manage long-haul flights due to the medication that he has to take following the blood clot on his lung. He was also not selected for the England Lions’ most recent matches – against Australia A – although that may have been due to the fact that he had only recently returned to action after his knee injury.
His replacements for those two matches were Joe Root, Nick Compton and Varun Chopra. Root has long been earmarked as Strauss’ long-term successor, but whether he is deemed ready by the England selectors for Test cricket – he has played just one full season of first-class cricket and is just 21 – remains to be seen; although he does average over 50 in the Championship in 2012. Contenders to Root in a couple of years could include Essex batsman Tom Westley, Kent’s Sam Northeast, Root’s Yorkshire team-mate Adam Lyth, or possibly a return to the England fold for Middlesex’s Joe Denly, but those four, even more so than Root, are not yet ready for Test cricket.
In my opinion, England should plump for one of the experienced men doing the rounds at the top of county batting orders. Nick Compton, though not an opener for Somerset, has to be one of the leading candidates in this regard. He has a superb technique and was the quickest batsman to reach 1000 runs this season. Unfortunately, as with Carberry, he has had injury problems – the most recent being a back spasm which caused him to miss the most recent of the England Lions matches – and could be considered old, at 29, to be making a debut.
Hampshire’s Jimmy Adams, Sussex’s Chris Nash and Lancashire’s out-of-form but former England Lions opener Stephen Moore are other experienced batsmen with pedigree, but are very much left field selections and thus unlikely to be considered.
In between the young and the experienced is Warwickshire’s 25 year-old opener Varun Chopra. He has been a man transformed since leaving Essex at the end of 2009 and hit two double-hundreds in his first two Championship matches last season prior to his form tailing off a little. In 2012, he has been solid rather outstanding, with a first-class average of almost 37 for the Bears during what looks like being a title-winning campaign.
If it were down to me, I would pick Compton, who was unlucky to miss out, firstly to James Taylor and then to Jonny Bairstow, in the battle for a middle-order spot. I believe that, despite not being a regular opener for Somerset, he would offer England some consistency at the top of their batting order as they further groom Joe Root to be Strauss’ long-term replacement.
Compton always reminds me of Australian opener Ed Cowan due to their similar career paths. Both men looked like being no more than good domestic players, before exploding onto the scene – in Cowan’s case with a Test debut and in Compton’s by sheer weight of first-class runs – and the similarities do not end there. Compton, like Cowan, is extremely interested in pursuing a career in the media when his playing days are over. I believe that, also like Cowan, he will provide England’s top-order with some solidity over the next couple of years.
© Cricket World 2012
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