Per­haps the tor­toise can beat the hare – but could he suc­ceed in Aus­tralia?

Si­b­ley’s slow but steady scor­ing was just what Eng­land needed but his tech­nique might be found want­ing in the Ashes

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Second Test - By Scyld Berry Chief CriCkeT WriTer

Do­minic Si­b­ley kept Eng­land in this se­ries by bat­ting through the open­ing day for 86 off 253 balls. He did not take the game away from West Indies, but he kept Eng­land in it, un­til Ben Stokes joined him and to­gether they turned the tide, to the point where Ja­son Holder is likely to re­gret his de­ci­sion.

This is the first time Si­b­ley has reached 50 in the first in­nings of a Test, and there could have been no bet­ter mo­ment than when Eng­land had been sent in on a grey day that de­manded flood­lights.

Si­b­ley bat­ted as if it had not been a mod­ern Eng­land Test at Old Traf­ford but an old-fash­ioned Roses match, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing off his legs at one run an over un­til tea, match­ing na­ture’s grim­ness with his own, and ac­cel­er­at­ing only slightly there­after, an anachro­nism in English cricket nowa­days in that no­body else dons a hair shirt.

Si­b­ley is not the slow­est open­ing bats­man Eng­land have ever had – not for cer­tain. The num­ber of balls which some of the great block­ers have faced over the years went un­recorded so we will never know their scor­ing rates. But he is the sec­ond slow­est opener Eng­land have had in mod­ern times, with his run-rate stand­ing at 36 runs per 100 balls.

York­shire’s Adam Lyth was the sprightli­est open­ing bats­man Eng­land have tried in the last decade, av­er­ag­ing 50 per 100 balls. Of the oth­ers who did not make the cut, Mid­dle­sex’s Sam Rob­son and Sur­rey’s Mark Stone­man had a strik­er­ate of 44, as does Rory Burns, Alex Hales 43, Keaton Jen­nings 42 and Michael Car­berry 41.

The only slower opener Eng­land have re­cently had was Haseeb Hameed, at 34 per 100 balls, but he was bat­ting in In­dia against a world-class at­tack – and for part of it with a bro­ken finger. Mean­time, the two knights car­ried on rather more proac­tively, in ac­cor­dance with their sta­tus as cap­tain: Sir Alas­tair Cook at a strike-rate of 46, and Sir An­drew Strauss at 48.

It puts pres­sure on Si­b­ley’s part­ners when he bats as slowly as he does – Ben Stokes itches – but at least it does not ruf­fle the man him­self. He is im­per­turbably pa­tient, and if he is slower than all those pre­de­ces­sors in the last 10 years who failed to pin down the spot, he il­lus­trates how the tor­toise can beat the hare. Ro­tate the strike? Not when Si­b­ley is happy to play within his lim­i­ta­tions, and leave any­thing out­side his off stump, and block out maiden af­ter maiden.

Si­b­ley’s con­cen­tra­tion is as strong as that of some il­lus­tri­ous pre­de­ces­sors as Eng­land’s open­ing bats­man. His de­sire, too, is up right there: he set him­self to lose weight dur­ing lock­down and did.

It has been dis­ap­point­ing that the two pitches so far have been so slug­gish, made for at­tri­tional bat­ting, so that only Stokes and Jer­maine Black­wood have got above sec­ond gear. Our famine has ceased and we are no longer starved of cricket, but it is por­ridge and gruel which has been served. But Si­b­ley has not com­plained, in­stead us­ing the time to find his feet, and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ab­sence of bounc­ers.

Can Si­b­ley keep im­prov­ing to the point where he suc­ceeds in Aus­tralia? Ten out of 10 for his tem­per­a­ment: it does not look as though he will be rat­tled when David Warner gets in his face. It is that tech­nique of turn­ing chest-on and play­ing round his left hip to reach the leg-stump ball which is one ma­jor con­cern. The sec­ond is his off-driv­ing with a closed bat-face when he bats on bouncier pitches; the shot when he was dropped by Holder at sec­ond slip off Shan­non Gabriel must not be a fore­taste of what hap­pens in Aus­tralia if Eng­land are to re­gain the Ashes.

Against spin Si­b­ley is not nearly as lim­ited as he has looked in this se­ries, be­calmed by the part-time off spin of Ros­ton Chase. In the sec­ond half of his 133 in South Africa, in Eng­land’s sec­ond in­nings in Cape Town, once his team were safe and his own place too, Si­b­ley swept the left-armer Keshav Ma­haraj, and swept him un­err­ingly too. He re­moved his hair-shirt and donned Eng­land’s white-ball strip.

It is a shame that Eng­land will not have Jofra Archer to ex­ploit Old Traf­ford as it dries and speeds up. Maybe Archer would have gone home any­way, but he might have been less tempted to do so if he had been in­stalled as the leader of Eng­land’s bowl­ing at­tack, which he should have been be­fore this se­ries, and fully en­gaged in the team’s plan­ning for this sum­mer and be­yond. Archer alone threat­ened West Indies’ run chase.

He bat­ted as if it was not a mod­ern Eng­land Test but a Roses match from years gone by

Poles apart: Stub­born Eng­land opener Dom Si­b­ley and the more at­tack­ing Ben Stokes

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