Lyth Deserves Some Patience
While James Anderson’s absence may be the main talking point ahead of the Fourth Ashes Test, the future of Adam Lyth remains in the balance after a string of low scores.
Lyth is the latest in an increasing line of batsman tasked with partnering Alistair Cook at the top of the order; having seen Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott all fail to fill Andre Strauss’ shoes, following the former England Captain’s retirement in 2012.
With an average of just 22.20 to his name, the case for dropping Lyth is perhaps obvious; but any decision to do so would be premature, having given the Yorkshireman just five Tests to settle in to one of the games toughest roles.
Former Glamorgan and England opener Steve James described opening batsmen as a ‘breed apart’ when Lyth’s first cap was confirmed in May.
Striding out to face the first balls of any innings presents a unique challenge, every single time. The pace, the bounce, the movement, the form of the bowler. All unknown until those first overs have been pushed through.
Assessing the wicket isn’t a precise art – as Australia’s decision to bat at Edgbaston, and their subsequent collapse, showed – while watching the opposition bat will only tell you so much about the conditions. You have to experience it first hand, at any level, to really get a feel for the wicket and the situation you face.
Middle order batsmen and tail enders benefit from the hindsight and advice of those who have gone before – “it’s swinging late”, “the bounce is low” – but the opener is the scouting party. The first to face a hostile home crowd or the brunt of a bristling fast bowlers onslaught.
As such, patience is a virtue when it comes to finding the right pairing to lead a team. Even if it may seem otherwise in the short term.
That England have gone through five other openers, including shoe horning three middle order batsmen in to the role, before coming to Lyth – arguably the best opener in County cricket at the time – perhaps speaks something of the ignorance that can surround the position.
As James hinted at in his Telegraph piece in May, at his best Jonathan Trott had the ‘air’ of an opener about him; but England’s attempts to force him in to the role ended in disaster, and robbed Lyth of some valuable experience ahead of the summer’s showdown with Australia in the process.
It’s easy to hit the panic button, to point at the low scores and claim there are others out there who should be considered for selection. Nick Compton was a victim of this. Despite a promising start, he was ousted in 2013 to make way for Root.
When calling for change, it’s also easy to forget the struggles others faced when making their first foray in to international cricket, or the flaws those other candidates have in their own games.
Lyth’s fledgling Test career has yielded 222 runs and one Test hundred. For comparisons sake, David Boon scored just 173 runs in his first five Test matches for Australia in 1984/85 and took eleven Tests to register his first hundred (123 vs India at Adelaide).
Boon was of course a staunch middle order batsman for Australia for more than a decade, not an opener. But the Tasmanian’s early struggles, and subsequent success (107 matches, 7422 runs at an average of 43.65 including 21 Test hundreds), show what a man can achieve with patience – especially after his own first Ashes series was as unremarkable as Lyth’s is proving to be (Boon scored 124 runs in seven innings during the 1985 series, at an average of 17.71 – largely propped up by an inning of 61 at Old Trafford)
England moved on from Carberry (six Test), Robson (seven Tests) and Compton (nine Tests) with alarming speed. They may never have truly flourished in the role, and Compton may be a more natural number three than opener, but the way in which they were so swiftly moved out is concerning – especially as each subsequent attempt to fill the role has just seen the cycle repeat itself once again.
Dispensing with Lyth under the same pretence would be folly so soon after giving the 27-year old he first opportunity some ten weeks ago.
Lyth deserves a fair crack, not to be the latest in a long line deemed ‘not good enough’ before the dirt on his boots has even had time to dry. Turning to Alex Hales or Mark Stoneman offers no more guarantee of success – particularly when Hales own Championship form and flawed technique would quickly see him in the same position Lyth now finds himself all too quickly.
If England have concerns about an aspect of Lyth’s game, help him. They did it with Robert Croft, a far inferior batsman to Lyth, when Allan Donald purposefully peppered the Welshman with short balls during the 1998 tour. Give England batting coach Mark Ramprakash the tools to help Lyth, not another revolving door.
Not every opener will be as swashbuckling as David Warner – who had his own struggles lets not forget – nor as staunch as Michael Atherton. But Adam Lyth has proven his worth at County level, and deserves a fair run with the national side.
For Lyth not to be on the plane to the UAE in the autumn, ready to take on Pakistan, would be tragic. For him not to be partnering Cook by the end of the summer would be criminal.