England’s top order: the Achilles Heel

England’s bowling attack is dangerous, especially in swinging conditions, and more than capable of taking the necessary twenty wickets to win a test match. Jimmy Anderson is the master of the swinging ball, Stuart Broad is extremely dangerous on his day and Ben Stokes will hold an end whilst chipping in with a few wickets. Moeen Ali is improving, Mark Wood has substantial pace and Steven Finn has kick-started his career with wickets in the test at Edgbaston. England’s mid to lower batting order is strong; any one of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali or even Broad himself can inflict significant damage upon the opponent’s bowling unit.

However, with worrying frequency, England’s top order is prone to a collapse. The opening partnership and middle order has become a genuine concern for management and fans alike, whilst the two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, relish the opportunity to run in at an order lacking in confidence. That’s not to say England’s best batsmen are not up to the task, there is more than enough talent in the England squad to post consistently imposing totals. Alastair Cook has been in good touch since the start of the summer, without really having the totals to show for it. He and Joe Root, a man with confidence and experience beyond his years, are the only guarantees in the top order. Even then, there are still questions surrounding Root’s best spot. The problem is a lack of continuity. The only consistency in England’s top order is the rotation of players. The England management must select a top order and allow it to have a run of series together, only that way will their be a consistent flow of runs from the top order. Here is how the men currently jockeying for a position in the top order stack up:

Adam Lyth:

Unlucky on occasion, lacking confidence on others, Lyth has yet to fully impose himself at the top of England’s order. Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss a number of years ago, Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott and Root have all tried to fill the void without any real success. That being said, none of the above were given an extended run in the side. Lyth needs more time to acclimatize to the intensity of international cricket, although the same could be said for all of the previous experiments to partner Cook. A big score against Australia at Trent Bridge will work wonders for some much needed confidence.

Gary Ballance:

Despite a test average of nearly 50, Ballance’s technique has been found out in recent series against New Zealand and now, Australia. Subsequently, he was dropped for the Third Ashes test. Ballance started his career very strongly, scoring well against Sri Lanka and India last summer and looked to be the future for England at three. Since the first test in Antigua however, the Zimbabwe-born man has been lacking confidence and seems to have lost control of his technique. Struggles early in his young career will no doubt benefit him in the long run but for the moment Ballance must regain his form and confidence with Yorkshire.

Ian Bell:

The last surviving player from that memorable Ashes series in 2005, Bell is nearing the end of his career. Bell has seen his form progressively dip over the past few years and has intense scrutiny on his place in the side. Nonetheless, the 33 year-old possesses one of the most exquisite techniques in world cricket, when he is on form he is simply irrepressible. He is also used to being under pressure having had his place in question numerous times in his career. A player of Bell’s experience and ability deserves his place in the England order, however he is best suited for fourth or fifth in the lineup, when the new ball has softened.

Jonny Bairstow:

The Yorkshire batsman has been in scintillating County Championship form all season so it was not a surprise to see him included for the Third Ashes Test at the expense of Ballance. However, having Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood to face is a far more ominous task than County journeymen plugging away. Nonetheless, Bairstow has been unlucky in recent years not to receive an extended look in the side as he clearly possesses the necessary talent to compete at the highest level. In time Bairstow will fill a middle order space on a consistent basis but this Ashes series may not be that moment.

James Taylor:

Taylor is a fantastic player, exquisite to watch and with the results to prove it. Taylor possesses a first class average of almost 50 yet he has struggled to force the England selectors’ hands. Much maligned, often publicly, Taylor can count himself extremely unlucky not to have received more opportunities than his two test matches. Do I think he’ll establish himself in England’s top order? No, and it pains me to say it as Taylor is one of the most talented cricketers of this generation.

Sam Robson

Yet another England opener who struggled to assert himself at the top of England’s order, Robson will be eyeing Lyth’s current vulnerability. The Middlesex opener made his debut against Sri Lanka in 2014 but only survived to the end of the India tour later that year, scoring only one century, that coming at Headingley against Sri Lanka. One can only speculate as to whether England will take the drastic decision to drop Lyth in the middle of an Ashes series but Robson will certainly be on standby for such an occurrence.

England have the options to construct a competent top order. However continuity, not rotation, will yield the solid foundation that fans, players and management all yearn for. The England selectors must stop the revolving door that is the top and middle order. Whilst it is preventing any continuity at the beginning of the innings, it is messing with younger players’ confidence and subsequently stunting any growth in their careers. There exists very little doubt that England’s higher order batsmen lack sufficient talent, the problem lies in the patience of the selectors. A young and upcoming player deserves the chance to prove that they are capable of coming through dry periods of form, constantly looking over their shoulders to see who is wielding the axe is certainly not the recipe for individual and team success. Also bare in mind that these players are facing the second best bowling attack worldwide (after South Africa’s Steyn, Morkel and Philander) and on swinging pitches. Allow the players the chance to develop and learn without sacrificing them after one or two bad innings. England’s top order problems may not necessarily derive from the players themselves, it comes from a lack of patience from the people above them, the same people who are not on the pitch facing 90 mph bowling from Johnson, Starc et al.

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