In 2012, opening batsman and skipper Andrew Strauss retired after England lost a series against South Africa and his 100th Test Match was spoiled by the Kevin Pietersen 'Textgate' controversy. It was a difficult time for both Strauss and England cricket, but nowhere near as difficult as the following three years as England struggled to fill the hole he left behind.
Having made 7000 runs in his 100 tests at an average of 40.91, Strauss was just the latest in a long line of great England opening batsman. Graham Gooch, Herbert Sutcliffe, Geoff Boycott, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton and Michael Atherton to name but a few. And with such an illustrious record in this department, it is clear that England expect great things from their openers.
Look what happened to Joe Root. After showing good potential with his century against New Zealand, England almost immediately jumped him up to number two to replace the struggling Nick Compton. And Root, despite his great talent, found it just as difficult to adjust to his new role, scoring at an average of only 38, far less than his current Test average of 57.
So then England began working their way through the counties, desperately searching for the new Strauss. But the current evidence suggests one doesn't exist. Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott and now finally Adam Lyth have been tried, tested and tossed away when they haven't done quite as well as we all hoped.
This system is unlikely to work well for England, since good young players may become disillusioned with international cricket. As methods of team selection go, this one seems pretty volatile and not good for team morale.
The question is should the England selectors have expected so much? After all, it's not like anyone's been allowed to settle into the role. It's like we expect a player who's never so much as played International Cricket before, let alone opened the batting for England, to start churning out centuries left, right and centre.
But not every international player is world-class. Not every player will have an average above 40. Not straight away at least. Sometimes you just need someone to stand in for a while. Someone who may not set the country alight, but with the trust and support of both the England team and management can be a solid opening partner for Cook. Having someone he could rely on to face down the opening bowlers with the new ball, will take a lot of pressure off the England skipper as well as Ian Bell at number three.
It may take a while but with perseverance, any one of the batsman England tried could fulfil this role. They're all decent batsman, key players for their clubs. But England's expectations heaped great pressure on them. England are so set on finding the new Andrew Strauss, that all batsmen they try seem subpar by comparison. With support, however, they may not find what they are looking for, but they'll get as close as they possibly can.
Who is England's next great opening batsman?
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