What the batsman lacks in flair he makes up for in stubbornness and patience, as New Zealand have discovered
Has anyone ever been made so rapturously happy by Dom Sibley’s batting? Let loose at a Test match after 15 months of on-and-off lockdown, the crowd in the Hollies Stand were driven delirious by England’s odd-couple openers, Sibley and Rory Burns, as they batted through Thursday’s morning session for 72. That ranked surprisingly high in the list of England’s recent opening stands: fifth-best in a home Test since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, and their biggest in a first innings at home since the last time New Zealand were here in 2015, when Alastair Cook and Adam Lyth put on 177 together at Headingley.
This speaks to England’s struggle to settle on a reliable opening pair. And also to the fact that they may have finally found one. Unfortunately for them, it seems to have happened when their middle order has gone missing. Graham Gooch memorably described batting against Richard Hadlee’s New Zealand as like facing the World XI at one end and Ilford Second XI at the other. Watching England go about their work on Thursday afternoon, it felt as if New Zealand were bowling to Ilford Second XI at one end and Ilford Third XI at the other. By then, those in the Hollies Stand were chanting about football coming home. They were oddly quiet about the prospects of cricket doing similarly this winter.