The A40 dive bar and the answer to England’s big Ashes dilemma

The 2019 Ashes
Stoneman Starc PA

I like to imagine England’s failed openers gathered in a dive bar off the A40 – a stone’s throw from the home of cricket. Saloon-style doors opening and closing as the next ham-handed top-order batsman slumps himself onto a barstool.

There’s Nick Compton at the pool table taking three attempts to break while Keaton Jennings endlessly chalks his cue. Michael Carberry berating Alex Hales for breaking his rhythm in their game of cards with his all too frequent trips to the toilets. Haseeb Hameed sitting at the bar flicking peanuts in a V he’s made between two empty J2O bottles and Adam Lyth hunched over a jukebox, nodding along to R.E.M’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, scotch in hand.

Occasionally they look up to see the next opener wander in – Mark Stoneman.

“Rory Burns is just parking up boys, he’ll be in in a minute.”

“When is Cooky getting here?” Sam Robson might say.

But Sir Alastair will never arrive. There’s no sign of Boycott, Gooch or Atherton either. This is the dive bar – it’s not the place for them.

In the seven years since Andrew Strauss retired, England have had twelve different Test match openers. That’s an average of seven Test matches per batsman – some were fortunate to play that many. A third of all Test debuts since 2012 have been awarded to batsmen occupying that position – the relative consistency of the rest of the side only serves to highlight the ineptitude of the opening batsmen England have tried.

Of those openers, Lyth, Robson, Jennings and Compton all have Test match centuries to their name but none of them average over 30 – they flattered to deceive. Some, like Haseeb Hameed, showed promise, only for that promise to disintegrate as quickly as it reared.

Jason Roy will have a chance to impress in the Test match against Ireland at Lord’s on Wednesday and will surely be in the XI for the Ashes opener at Edgbaston, no matter his performance in that game. The one-day to Test cricket conversion cynics will cite Alex Hales as an example of how that move doesn’t work, but David Warner is proof of how a hard-hitting ‘up-and-at-em’ batsman can be a success in the longer format. There would be a decision to make had any of the recent Test openers had even a modicum of success – but alas they’re sipping stale beer in the dive bar.

The Test team has got to take advantage of any momentum built up by the one-day World Champions (pinch me) and look at the entertainment value and brand of cricket that side has been playing.

Jason.Roy_.England-PA

Roy will fail. I can already hear Boycott’s rant. But for every failure there will be a success, maybe for every two failures, or every three. I don’t really care – anything is better than watching Keaton Jennings dangle his bat outside off-stump for an hour before nicking off. We’ve got to decide what we want – another Jennings, Compton, or Lyth; or the antithesis of those people. For me it’s an easy decision – one the ECB seem to have made and need to stick with.

Roy may well be walking into the dive bar in two months’ time, his shoes sticking to the floor as he goes, but if he does he won’t be short of a story. A straight six off Starc or a scoop off Cummins perhaps.

And there’s a difference with Roy – he’s allowed to leave.

“See you later guys – keep your heads up.” He might say with his South African twang, his World Cup winners medal glinting in the light from the fluorescent arrow on the wall of the bar which reads ‘THIS WAY TO THE IPL’.

By Will Ford

Latest