Burns hangs around and finds so­lu­tion to curse of the opener

Adapt­abil­ity is the key to bats­man’s game as he works out way to fend off bar­rage of short balls

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test - Tim Wig­more at Old Traf­ford

Sam Rob­son scored a Test cen­tury once. It was a fine one, too: 127 on a tough wicket at Head­in­g­ley in his se­cond Test match in 2014. But Rob­son reached 50 only once in his next eight Test in­nings, and was swiftly dropped.

Adam Lyth scored a Test cen­tury once, too. Like Rob­son, he did it at Head­in­g­ley in his se­cond Test, de­fy­ing the swing of Trent Boult and Tim Southee to hit an ag­gres­sive 107. But Lyth did not pass 40 in an­other 10 in­nings, ex­posed by the bru­tal­ity of an Ashes se­ries, and has never played again.

Keaton Jen­nings scored two Test cen­turies. One came in each of his two stints in Test cricket – from 2016-17, and then 2017-18. The trou­ble is what hap­pened af­ter those Test hun­dreds: just one score above 50 in his last 28 Test in­nings.

And so when Rory Burns be­gan the se­ries with 133 at Edg­bas­ton, Eng­land’s en­thu­si­asm was tem­pered. He had dis­played great for­ti­tude and skill on Ashes de­but, even if that cen­tury had ben­e­fited from an unusual amount of luck: Burns played 23 per cent of false shots, in the top 10 for any cen­tury made in Test cricket since 2006.

Yet the real rea­son why Eng­land were still a lit­tle cau­tious to anoint Burns as one an­swer to their open­ing co­nun­drums was bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence. Most of the 15 Test open­ers (ex­clud­ing night­watch­man) since An­drew Strauss re­tired in 2012 have given the se­lec­tors some early rea­son to be hope­ful. It is what has come next – the dif­fi­cult se­cond al­bum – that has been the prob­lem. This has been the curse of the Eng­land opener.

In the se­cond in­nings at Edg­bas­ton, Burns was dis­missed

fend­ing off a short de­liv­ery. When the pitches quick­ened up in the next two Tests, three of Burns’s four dis­missals were to short balls. Al­though Burns still con­tributed 53 and 29 at Lord’s, two sin­gle fig­ures scores at Head­in­g­ley cre­ated just a lit­tle fear that Burns would suf­fer a sim­i­lar fate to Rob­son, Lyth and Jen­nings twice.

At Old Traf­ford, Burns dis­played the in­dis­pens­able qual­ity for a Test opener, es­pe­cially in such a bru­tal era for bat­ting: adapt­abil­ity. Ever since that dis­missal in the se­cond in­nings at Edg­bas­ton, Aus­tralia have ratch­eted up their proportion of short balls to Burns. In this in­nings, Burns re­ceived 76 short balls, the most he has ever faced in a Test in­nings; 58 per cent of balls from pace bowlers were short.

While the pitch was slower than in the pre­vi­ous two Tests, the as­sur­ance with which Burns played th­ese short balls – de­fend­ing or evad­ing the ball with confidence, and even hook­ing a cou­ple of fours – sug­gested that he had em­braced the end­less chal­lenge for Test bats­men, of weak­nesses be­ing ex­posed and at­tacked and then re­spond­ing. It ap­peared as if his hands were a lit­tle lower, help­ing him to duck un­der the ball when nec­es­sary. For all bar the very elite, such sub­tle re­fine­ments are the lifeblood of Test bats­man­ship. Burns has em­braced as much, while re­main­ing true to the quirks of the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic method that has got him this far.

“I found a way to get through to­day and that’s prob­a­bly the method of my bat­ting – try and find a way to get through and de­velop stuff on the quiet,” Burns said. “Pat Cum­mins is a fine bowler. He came in and made some­thing hap­pen. It was good to be up against it and nice to have that scrap and tus­sle with him.”

While Burns did not match the vol­ume of runs of Edg­bas­ton, this in­nings had a more as­sured feel. Af­ter com­ing through an oner­ous start to the third day, Burns looked more in con­trol than at Edg­bas­ton. The mid­dle of the bat was found more fre­quently; plays and misses were scarcer. Burns played only 19 per cent of false shots, com­pared with 23 per cent at Edg­bas­ton.

The way Burns played Nathan Lyon – start­ing the evening ses­sion by lash­ing a cut through the cov­ers, and sweep­ing dex­trously – show­cased the best of his method in Sri Lanka. His courage against the short ball and driv­ing – a back-foot punch against Mitchell Starc par­tic­u­larly oozed class – show­cased the best of his bat­ting against pace in the West Indies.

The real mark of Burns’s work this se­ries, though, is not so much in the runs he has scored as how he has fared against the com­pe­ti­tion. The other five bats­men to open this Ashes – Mar­cus Har­ris, David Warner and Cameron Ban­croft for Aus­tralia; Ja­son Roy and Joe Denly for Eng­land – av­er­age just 12 be­tween them, with only one score of 20 or more in 21 in­nings be­tween them. In this com­pany, Burns has 323 runs at 46 apiece. He has been un­demon­stra­tive but out­stand­ing. Only Steve Smith and Ben Stokes have scored more runs this Ashes sum­mer.

It has been six years since an English opener not called Alas­tair Cook made cen­turies in the same cal­en­dar year. If that run re­mains un­bro­ken, the re­solve that Burns has dis­played over the caul­dron of an Ashes cam­paign gives rea­son to think that that se­cond hundred will not be long in the off­ing.

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