England should consider changing opening partnership for third Ashes Test

England could consider changes for the third Ashes Test as they continue to search for a reliable opening partnership.

Rory Burns showed some overdue defiance with 34 in the second innings in Adelaide but Haseeb Hameed fell for six and nought after his two scores in the 20s in the first Test.

England lost Burns to the first ball of the whole series in Brisbane and opening partnerships of 23, seven and four since have done little to improve matters.

Here, the PA news agency looks at England’s ongoing top-order struggles in recent years and the alternatives at their disposal.

Trouble at the top

Sir Alastair Cook, right, and Sir Andrew Strauss
Sir Alastair Cook (right) and Sir Andrew Strauss have never been successfully replaced at the top of the England order (Rui Vieira/PA)

England’s average opening partnership since the retirement of former captain Sir Alastair Cook is less than 26, immediately highlighting their problems.

Burns and Hameed actually have comfortably the highest average of any partnership in that timeframe at 39.14 in their seven innings together, the only pairing to top 30.

Burns’ 57 innings are the most of any England opener in that time and he has average partnerships of 29.33 in 26 innings with Keaton Jennings and 28.23 in 13 with Dom Sibley, dropping to 21.67 with Joe Denly and 11.86 with Jason Roy in six and seven innings respectively.

Zak Crawley, the other opener in the touring squad, and Sibley averaged 25 in their 13 partnerships, while England have used makeshift openers on three occasions, Burns putting on 26 and four with nightwatchman Jack Leach, while pinch-hitters Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler put on just one against the West Indies at Old Trafford last year as Buttler fell for a third-ball duck.

The issue has been affecting England for even longer, with Cook standing alone as a successful opener since Sir Andrew Strauss retired in 2012. England’s average opening partnership since then is only 31.14 in 217 innings involving 20 different openers and 22 pairings.

Send for Jack Leach?

Jack Leach hits a four in his innings of 92 against Ireland
Jack Leach hit 92 as a fill-in opener against Ireland (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Going all the way back to Strauss’ retirement, only three England openers have averaged over 40.

Cook’s 144 innings in that timeframe brought him 5,868 runs at 42.52, while current captain Joe Root averaged 41.70 while filling that slot for 11 innings – solid but well down on his Test career mark of 50.01 and certainly his 62.69 this year, made exclusively at number four apart from one innings at five.

Their averages are surpassed by the surprising third member of the club – Leach, who converted one of his nightwatchman stints into a score of 92 against Ireland to average 46.50 as a stand-in opener.

Burns averages 30.93 and Hameed 29.08, with the latter’s figure falling slightly to 27 in his second stint since being recalled earlier this year.

England openers since Sir Alastair Cook's retirement
Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed are among the England openers to struggle in recent years (PA Graphic)

Since Cook’s retirement and excluding Leach, Jennings is the pick of the bunch with an average of 33.63, with Burns ranking third just behind Denly. Hameed’s 27 in that stretch ranks behind Sibley (28.94) but ahead of Crawley.

The latter, England’s only serious alternative for Boxing Day, averages 20.38 as a Test opener and has not played any cricket since September – he was selected for the tour game against the England Lions but did not bat as rain ruined England’s preparation. Crawley’s only Test hundred, a wonderful 267 against Pakistan last year, came when batting at number three behind Burns and Sibley.

There appears little prospect of a call-up for the Lions’ uncapped openers Rob Yates or 28-year-old Alex Lees, who made three single-figure scores between them in the match against Australia A in Brisbane with Yates’ second-innings 41 the only exception.