Alex Hales looks odds on to take his place alongside captain Cook at the top of the mercurial English top order on Boxing Day despite underwhelming warm-up game form.
The ECB have an ineluctable wish this Christmas – find an opening partner for Cook.
The cricketing public could be forgiven for thinking the English selectors are attempting to stage a cricket version of the Bachelor. Since the egress of Strauss in 2012, the England captain has been through 8 divorces. Compton (twice), Root, Carberry, Robson, Trott, Lyth and Ali have all been shoved into the opening spot on the ill-conceived volition of selectors.
The inclusion of Adam Lyth into the squad for the recently completed Ashes series seemed to be without substantiation, a wing and a prayer selection based on a lack or exhaustion of options. His performances exhibited England’s great deficiency and signaled a crisis seldom discussed by selectors – the epigrammatic life span of cooks opening partners.
The most successful partner post Strauss is a man who is in contention to feature in the First Test on Boxing Day. Ironically, he was also the first to fill the Strauss void – and he didn’t make a hash of it. In fact, he and Cook have been the most prolific opening pair since Strauss’s departure, superseding the short-lived liaison with Michael Vaughan in 2007/08. In 17 innings, Cook and Compton managed 927 runs at 57.93. To supplement these already laudable statistics, their time together was during two series victories away from home.
Compton may have overplayed his hand though. After being dropped in 2013, Compton has plied his trade in division one of the championship for Middlesex with resounding success. In 2014 he averaged 43.68 for Somerset before returning to Middlesex in 2015 where he averaged 38.72. Statistics that put him within the top echelon of talent going round the English domestic scene.
To further Compton’s case, he has the potential to remedy England’s biggest problem – their routine dependence on the middle order – Root, Barstow and formerly Bell. Since his first stint, Compton’s successors have been frail, to say the least, in seeing off the new ball. Just three century stands have been had between Cook and his opening partner in 55 innings since Compton. In 17 innings together, he and Cook managed the same amount.
The first time round – Nick Compton celebrates his first Test Match ton. Picture Copyright Getty Images.
Despite the fact he will likely feature on Boxing Day, he will doubtingly recuperate his relationship with his ex.
Enter Alex Hales.
Having burnt through eight openers in three years England turns to the services of Alex Hales, whose presence in the shorter form setups has been habitual yet chiefly unproductive. In 23 ODI innings, Hales averages a modest 25.17 having scored only a single hundred. His statistics aren’t flattering, yet his gung-ho approach to batting may well compliment the English top order. Cook and Root are technicians of the game whose performances flourish off the accumulation of singles. If Hales does face the new ball come the first morning in Durban, his incessant boundary hitting will relieve some of the pressure that has accompanied Cook for the past three years. An attribute that will bode well with selectors for future series.
He wouldn’t be the first T20 connoisseur to chance his hand at the longer form and succeed – case in point – David Warner (4305 runs at 50.64).
With South Africa in a relative state of flux after their derailment in India, England can pounce on the half eaten carcass and produce a thrilling series victory away from home. Early expectations of this series predict one that will be defined by the small battles; Amla v Cook, du Plessis v Root. Two men that have played a starring role for South Africa over the past several years, Steyn and de Villiers, stand between England and a series victory. If England take India’s lead and contain de Villiers, the trophy may well be travelling cross-country back to England.
Form Guide (Last 5): South Africa – LLDLD
England – LLDLW
Prediction: South Africa 2-0