Why England need an aggressive batsman to partner Alastair Cook at the top
England won the Ashes by a margin of 3-2 over Australia last week. After taking a lot of criticism for his manner of captaincy, Alastair Cook had finally proved most, if not all of his critics wrong and taken back the urn from Australia after a gap of 20 months.
There were many things over the course of the 6 weeks that went right for England. The batsman, led by the new star in the making Joe Root, piled on the runs while the bowlers, spearheaded by the canny James Anderson first and then Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Mark Wood later on proved to be too hot to handle for the visitors.
Every team, regardless of how comprehensively it dominates a match or a series, always has areas where it could improve and this England team is no exception to that.
Throughout the duration of that five-Test series, the opening pair of Cook and Adam Lyth failed to provide the team a solid start which meant that the middle-order was under pressure early on in the innings.
The runs put on by the pair throughout the series read as: 7, 17, 0,12, 19,11, 32, 30 and 19.
Not the kind of number you would be proud to have as an opening pair. If one has a look at both Cook and Lyth, both are similar kind of players. The former has always been an accumulator of runs and this series was no different while the latter, in his short international career, has also not looked a dasher and seems to belong to the category of batsmen who take their time to score their runs.
Now if one has a look at the opening pairs who have been successful in the last 15 years, one can certainly notice a pattern- which is that one batsman was the aggressor while the other looked to hang in there and bide his time in the middle.
Two kinds of batsman needed at the top
Australia had in Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden perhaps the best opening partnership in the last 15 years. While on one hand, Hayden would just put the bowler off his mark by charging down the wicket and hammering him over his head, Langer would on the other hand look to remove the shine off the new ball and provide his fellow left-hander the support that he needed.
South Africa had Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs at the top, who would provide their sides with good starts and even broke the record for the highest opening partnership in Test history.
India always had Virender Sehwag at one end for a long time while the other end kept changing from time to time- from Aakash Chopra in the early 2000's to Gautam Gambhir with whom he had a formidable run over a period of time.
Having someone aggressive open at the top of the order not only serves as a threat in the minds of the opposition, it also helps your own team set up matches in a huge manner.
One of the best examples to prove this point is the 2008 India vs England Test at Chennai. The visitors had set a target of 387 runs in the fourth innings for India to chase and out came Sehwag and absolutely smashed the bowlers to all parts and took the game away from the opposition within the matter of just over an hour.
That is the kind of impact an aggressive batsman can have at the top and that is why I feel England need to find someone at the top who could put the pressure on the bowling side from ball one.
Someone like Alex Hales I feel should be given a long enough rope to partner Cook at the top to set the game for England.
One thing is for sure – if England are to return to their glory days in Test cricket, they will need substantial contributions from their opening pair; else the middle order could well be carrying the entire burden of their batting on their shoulders.