2006: Alastair Cook first walked out onto a cricket field wearing an England shirt, and ever since we have been spoilt with a truly exceptional talent. Say what you will about his success and batting consistency, over his 161 test matches Cook’s record of 12,472 runs (averaging at 45.95) has inspired the nation. In the fast-paced world of T20 cricket, where a batter’s ability to score higher than a run a ball is a triumph, the opportunity to watch someone with the resilience to bat for days on end in order to build an innings is incredible.
As a coach, I’m always telling young cricketers to form partnerships within the game and to play as a team. Alastair Cook was undoubtedly the best at this. The beauty of cricket is that it’s a team game played by individuals. Cook emphasised this – a stand-out moment being the UAE 2015 Series, England v Pakistan. Cook played an amazing innings. On a bowler-friendly wicket, the Captain batted for 518 balls and 836 minutes for a supurb 263; not only defying the laws of concentration for a batsman, but also proving his devotion to the team. England played an impressive 598-9 – a further 3 batsmen recording half centuries whilst Cook stuck around to help pile the pressure on the opposition.
His resiliance and stong desire to bat was unmissible. Hailed ‘The Chef of England’, he’ll forever be known as one of the greatest batsmen of all time, alongside legends David Gower, Graham Gooch and more.
But now he’s gone. The big question is: where do England go now? And it’s not an easy one to answer.
The cause of much debate amongst the cricketing community and fans alike, established and talented cricketers including Mark Stoneman have been brought into contention, but why take a step back when you can go forward?
Let’s consider the facts.
Over the past few years, the selectors’ choices clearly demonstrate a lack of understanding and planning within the programme. Keaton Jennings’ return to the test side in the latest series against India being a prime example.
Now, we can't deny his talent and success at domestic level, but why did they give a batsman, who openly failed during his last stint on the test arena, another chance in one of the toughest test battles of recent years?
True, his technique is impressive with an air of maturity; however the lack of movement in his feet combined with his weak resilience has undoubtedly resulted in more arrows flying in his direction. That said, I don't envy the job of the selectors. Replacing a talent such as Cook’s is never going to be easy, but looking back is not the answer. It’s time for a new vision to be brought in, new talent to nurture.
Enter Rory Burns – a man who can try no harder to attract the attention of the selectors than he obviously has been doing.
Captaining Surrey in a very successful 2018 County Championship season, a strong fielder, and with unmissible batting prowess last season, Burns is a force to be reckoned with. The only English batsman to record 1000 runs, smashing his way to 1319 runs (averaging 69.42), supported by consistentently impressive performances in England’s Lion’s Squad. To not give this expressive young talent a go at the top level would be foolish, especially considering that the next round of test matches can easily be seen as a warm-up for the coming Ashes Series.
But statistics aside, technically Burns’ technique is on-point. Considered by many to have a ‘unique’ set-up (alluding to his shuffling style and body checking routine, which can make him appear nervous at the wicket), as a coach I think that’s an advantage. This level of concentration and attention to detail when approaching a delivery highlights control and gives an air of confidence. Moreover, it’s proven.
Burns has dominated English cricket this year, recording a high score of 193, in addition to 4 hundreds and 7 fifties for his county. Time to take things to the next level, exposing him to international cricket is essential.
My only concern: could the step up from county cricket to international be too big? His movement around the crease needs improving. Watching him at Worcestershire, it made his innings look edgy not placed, as highlighted when his movement took him too far across the stumps against Dylan Pennington who took his leg stump. Deceptively small, this key flaw will be exploited by bowlers and critics so, technically skilled or not, he needs to improve on this, tightening his ‘uniqueness’ if his international career is to progress.
Other options include Somerset’s James Hildreth. 2018 saw him score 952 (averaging at 41.39), whilst James Vince achieved 921 runs (averaging at 41.86). However, with Hildreth aged 34 and Vince ‘yo-yo-ing’ in and out of the side, not to mention the fact that both batters are established top order batters rather than openers, critics would argue that it would be a dangerous risk to send Burns out as England’s new opener vs such experience.
But then how will cricket progress? Where will the new legends come from and who will back England when the experienced ones retire?
Let’s try something new. Who knows, maybe we’ll unearth another Joe Clarke, a young, vibrant batsman to Burns at the top of the order and create England's next dynamic duo. Personally, I really hope they give Burns a shot.