Why value of self-taught scrap­per Burns is far higher than his av­er­age

Eng­land’s prag­matic opener sets the tone with tough runs at the start of a se­ries but this key role tends to get over­looked

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Scyld Berry CHIEF CRICKET WRITER

There are bats­men who make lots of runs and boast an av­er­age to match, and there are bats­men – noth­ing fancy – who make runs when they mat­ter most, like Rory Burns.

Burns goes into the sec­ond Test at Old Traf­ford as Eng­land’s most se­nior spe­cial­ist bats­man af­ter Joe Root, even though he made his Test de­but less than two years ago; and his finest fea­ture is that he scores tough runs at the start of a Test se­ries, when Eng­land have been at their most fee­ble.

His Test de­but, in Galle, was un­re­mark­able, but English open­ing bats­men are sel­dom renowned for their ex­per­tise on turn­ing pitches. Burns, how­ever, set­tled rapidly in Sri Lanka, and scored 54 runs per 100 balls – more than three runs per over – by im­ple­ment­ing the team tac­tic of sweep­ing and re­verse-sweep­ing Sri Lanka’s three spin­ners to perdi­tion.

Sub­se­quently, Burns has set the tone in the open­ing match of Eng­land’s last five se­ries. It is lit­tle fault of his that they have lost all five be­cause he has scored 133 against Aus­tralia, 80s in the West Indies and South Africa, a fifty in New Zealand, then 30 and 42 in the first Test of this se­ries at Southamp­ton. He has seized the stan­dard – though a ju­nior cen­tu­rion

– and led the charge.

Open­ing bats­men who set the tone of a se­ries have tra­di­tion­ally been un­der­val­ued, ex­cept by their team-mates. Pre­views fo­cus on the big names, the star all-rounders, the fast bowlers … but so of­ten it is the unglam­orous opener, pitch­ing his tent on day one, who de­fines the se­ries for his side.

Like Kraigg Brath­waite, who in­spired West Indies with the con­fi­dence they could win af­ter dis­miss­ing Eng­land for 204, by scor­ing 65 un­til he was given lbw in one of the many poor de­ci­sions which af­flicted the tourists in the first half of the game, but which al­most evened them­selves out by the end.

Of his many em­i­nent pre­de­ces­sors as an Eng­land open­ing bats­man, Burns re­sem­bles none so much as Sir An­drew Strauss. It can­not be a co­in­ci­dence that both played rugby un­til their late teens as scrum or fly-halves. Their style is prag­matic, that of a scrap­per; they ab­sorb the bounc­ers be­cause they are used to be­ing kicked; they are not wor­ried about their lead­ing el­bow in the off-drive so long as they make tough runs.

In­deed, they sel­dom play the off-drive, in­stead briskly clip­ping any­thing on their legs, and giv­ing it the kitchen sink when the ball is short and wide. In the process, they re­as­sure team-mates who fol­low that the bowl­ing is hit­table.

In his last four se­ries, fol­low­ing his de­but in Sri Lanka, Burns has been first to show the op­po­si­tion to be mor­tal. Af­ter Eng­land had been blasted away for 77 in Bridgetown, his 84 got them into the se­ries (no­body else passed 34 in the game). He had pulled, or rather swept, his weight in Sri Lanka and now his idio­syn­cratic tech­nique had suc­ceeded against West In­dian pace: this fel­low had an all-round game, even though he had never been an Eng­land Lion or gone on one of their tours, or maybe be­cause of it. Burns learnt for him­self in­stead.

A crit­i­cal, and typ­i­cal, mo­ment was when he left Whit­gift School, ef­fec­tively Sur­rey’s academy, where he had to bat at No9 and keep wicket. He was open­ing the bat­ting for his club Banstead, and moved to City of Lon­don Freemen’s so he could keep do­ing so. He had one year, not three, at Cardiff Univer­sity, again iden­ti­fy­ing what was best for his game, then five sea­sons of scor­ing 1,000 first-class runs for Sur­rey – noth­ing fancy at the Lough­bor­ough academy – be­fore Eng­land fi­nally re­alised. So an au­to­di­dact, and just as well in a side of so many un­proven bats­men, be­cause he has had no top-or­der col­league from whom to learn.

His 133 against Aus­tralia at Edg­bas­ton would have been a match­win­ner if James An­der­son had not bro­ken down and Steve Smith had not made two cen­turies. In the pre­vi­ous Test, the one-off against Ire­land, Burns had been all over the place but he found the an­swer with the aid of Neil Ste­wart, his child­hood coach. He can still get too chest-on against a right-arm bowler over the wicket, as a re­sult of com­pen­sat­ing for his left-eye dom­i­nance, yet he car­ries on scrap­ping.

It was his 84 at Cen­tu­rion that re­stored Eng­land’s con­fi­dence last win­ter when they had been go­ing down like ninepins with a virus. That teed Eng­land up to win the se­ries, even though Root’s tackle in the foot­ball warmup at Cape Town put him out of the last three Tests.

Burns’s Test av­er­age is 33.9, but his value to the team has been much higher.

Of his many em­i­nent pre­de­ces­sors, Burns re­sem­bles none so much as Sir An­drew Strauss

Unglam­orous work: Rory Burns on his way to 42 in the sec­ond in­nings of the first Test

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