Following Jonathan Trott’s retirement, there is a chance for a new man to build a career.
Some 20 days after the end of the third Test against the West Indies, Alastair Cook’s England are back at home and preparing for more five-day battles.
When they walk out at Lord’s to face New Zealand in the first of a somewhat-insulting two-match series in which they start as favourites, the hosts will have a new opening batsman among their ranks. Jonathan Trott’s brave-but-failed comeback in the Caribbean ended with his international retirement and has England looking for a sixth partner for Cook in the three years since Andrew Strauss departed the scene.
Opinions on who should take up what is becoming an increasingly poisoned chalice alongside the skipper at the top of the order are varied. Five candidates for the role are explored below:
Adam Lyth – Yorkshire
Lyth has been named in the squad to face New Zealand so the opening berth is his to lose.
The Yorkshireman was the County Championship’s leading scorer last season and was selected on an England Lions trip to South Africa last year.
How much he impressed England’s decision makers while with the squad in the West Indies could play a big factor in his future selection, as it was telling that he wasn’t given a game even in the face of Trott’s obvious struggles.
Alex Hales – Nottinghamshire
While Lyth has been stuck on England’s sidelines, wearing fluorescent bibs and carrying drinks, he hasn’t been taking part in the new county season.
Hales, once pigeon holed as an exclusive T20 specialist even at domestic level, has filled the gap left by Lyth and became the form batsman in the country heading into the New Zealand Tests.
The Notts man, once loaned out to Worcestershire to try and help him find four-day form, has improved his red-ball game significantly to top the current run charts with 639 runs from eight innings this summer and could well get the nod on that basis.
Sam Robson – Middlesex
Robson was the last man to open with Cook in an English Test-match summer, but ultimately failed to impress in seven games against Sri Lanka and India.
The Australian-born batsman wasn’t considered for selection against the West Indies and has had to return to county cricket in order to try and force his re-selection.
Unfortunately, 276 runs in eight knocks at an average of 34.50 for Middlesex isn’t the kind of numbers that are likely to make the selectors take notice.
Michael Carberry – Hampshire
Like Robson, Carberry is a previously discarded option at the top of England’s batting card. He fell by the wayside after the humiliating Ashes whitewash last year but, unlike the Middlesex man, has since shown form for his county.
403 runs at an average of 67.16 for Hampshire makes Carberry the second-most successful opening batsman of the county season so far (behind Hales), but it is his 34 years of age that could ultimately count against him as England look to build for the future.
Varun Chopra – Warwickshire
Although some passionate England fans may see Trott’s exit as the perfect chance to get Kevin Pietersen back into the team, the reality is that there isn’t a space for him in the middle order at the moment.
Instead, only genuine opening bats are likely to be considered for the position and few have been as consistent as Chopra in recent years.
He has passed 1,000 first-class runs in three of the past four seasons and has been an England Lion in years prior, but surely has a number of more fancied names ahead of him in the pecking order at present.