England owes county cricket a debt of thanks for the emergence of a top three that no one saw coming. Given the numerous false dawns of English openers in recent years, it would be unwise to get too carried away with Dom Sibley’s maiden Test hundred in England’s series-leveling win at Cape Town.
The post-Strauss back-catalog is littered with one-hit wonders that burnt brightly but briefly before being told to pack their bags and return to county cricket.
Nick Compton, Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings each provide cautionary tales.
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Dom Sibley’s hundred:
As Sibley batted through eight hours in England’s second innings at Newlands, facing 311 deliveries on his way to becoming the first English opener to score a Test century at the ground since Jack Hobbs in 1910
James Anderson’s description of the Warwickshire right-hander as a “mirror image” of Alastair Cook started to feel a little less fanciful.
Speaking after his century, Sibley admitted that discussions in the media surrounding his unorthodox technique had affected the way he batted in New Zealand, where he scored 38 runs across three innings and led to him playing at deliveries he would usually have left alone.
“You’re never quite prepared for the spotlight you’re going to be under,” said the 24-year-old. “When you start playing for England, there are people writing about you and picking apart your technique and it’s tough to avoid. In New Zealand I probably put myself under a lot of pressure to get that big score. You want to prove to yourself you’re good enough for this level.”
By scoring a hundred against an impressive South African attack and setting up a memorable victory, Sibley has proven to himself and his doubters that he is capable.
The turning tracks of Sri Lanka on England’s next tour will provide a different type of challenge but the composure and clarity of thought he showed at Cape Town gives reason for cautious optimism.
Joe Denly and Rory Burns:
While an ankle injury has ruled Rory Burns out of action for the next four months just as his Test career was gathering pace, there is now genuine hope that when he returns England will finally have an opening partnership with some staying power. Throw Joe Denly into the mix, and, whisper it, they may actually have a top three worthy of the name.
Denly’s average of 31.30 doesn’t leap off the page, and his failure to turn starts into big scores remains a concern. But he has now faced more than 100 balls in eight of his last 12 innings and looks increasingly comfortable at Test level.
The value of that last statistic won’t be wasted on Root, Stokes, and Buttler, who thanks to Sibley and Denly got a rare opportunity to play some shots from a position of dominance in the second innings at Cape Town.
The knock-on effect of a solid top three cannot be overestimated with this England side. Think back to Matt Prior and the destruction he caused coming in at No.7, with 250-plus regularly on the board.
Jos Buttler recently admitted he is “not quite performing to the standards I need to” and one hundred from 38 Tests doesn’t come close to doing justice to his talent but how often has he been given the platform to play with the freedom so often afforded to Prior in those heady days.
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