It’s the start of an English Test series, which means it’s time to debate who Alastair Cook’s opening partner should be! Jack Kerrigan looks at five potential candidates for the job.
Of course, with the No.3 slot not yet nailed down either, we could see more than one of these guys this summer.
120 first-class matches
Robson has more international experience than anyone in this list, having played all seven Tests in the summer of 2014. His Test average of 30.54 is neither here nor there, and a century in his second Test suggested he has the temperament to succeed; the question was whether he had the technique to deal with international-class pace bowling. In the last two seasons he’s been racking up the runs trying to prove that he does. Since the start of 2016 he’s scored 1,433 Championship runs at an average of 53 – perhaps not the all-conquering numbers of some of the others on this list, but enough to suggest that at least he’s dealt with his off-stump issues. Selection for England Lions’ fixture against South Africa shows that he’s in the selectors thoughts, and if England want an in-form opener with international experience then Robson is their man.
142 First-class matches
The hipster’s choice. His overall first-class record isn’t much to shout about, but having made most of his runs at the seamer’s paradise that is Chester-le-Street, his supporters will say his average is worth at least 15 more. Stoneman, though, recognised that he needed a greater weight of runs to press his claim – “for me to kick on to that next level, it’s making double hundreds” he told AOC before the start of the season – and since moving to Surrey, and the friendlier deck of the Oval, he’s shown he can make the big scores Test cricket requires; in six four-day matches for the London club, Stoneman has gathered 627 runs at 67.20, with a high score of 197. A pair of half-centuries against South Africa A for the England Lions further advanced his cause.
32 First-class matches
Eight months ago, Hameed had appeared to have put an end to the Great England Test Opener debate. Just 19 years old at the time, his peerless debut against India, described by former Wisden editor Scyld Berry as “the most promising of all the Test debuts by England batsmen I have seen in the past 40 years,” appeared to have inked him in at the top of the order for the next 15 years. He had the technique and he had the temperament, it seemed. Now all he needed was to stay injury-free. But, after a period of horrid form, he’s become almost unpickable. From 10 first-class games in 2017, he’s made 216 runs at 14 with no half-centuries, topped off by scores of 0 and 2 for the Lions against South Africa A. His time will surely come, but, sadly, it’s not now.
82 First-class matches
The incumbent, and probably the favourite. Keaton Jennings endured a mediocre start to his first-class career, before an extraordinary County Championship season – 1,548 runs, average of 65, seven hundreds – saw him fast-tracked into the Test team as a replacement for the injured Haseeb Hameed. He responded with a hundred on debut, much like one Alastair Cook did all those years ago. His form this year – 399 Championship runs at 36 – hasn’t quite matched the heights of 2016, but with a fifty for England Lions against South Africa A to his name, made on the hottest English June day in the past four decades, no less, he may just have done enough to show he’s worth sticking with for the time being.
41 First-class matches
The dark horse. Gubbins could have made a Test debut last December, and admitted that when Hameed got injured in India he and Keaton Jennings “were both sitting in our apartment thinking, ‘This could be one of us here’”. He was right, but it was Jennings who was chosen, and who made the most of his opportunity. Still, Gubbins felt he was close, and with good reason – he hit 1,409 runs in Middlesex’s title win last year, and has continued to churn them out this year, with 352 runs from seven games. He probably needed a big hundred against South Africa A to push himself above Jennings in the queue, but could yet make his debut this summer, come injury or loss of form, and at 23 all his best years are still ahead of him.