Who should replace Alastair Cook and do England need to find two new openers?

Sport360 Writers 19:28 04/09/2018
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End of an era: Alastair Cook will retire after the Oval Test.

Alastair Cook’s 12-year stretch as an opener for England in Test cricket will come to an end after the fifth and final Test against India at the Oval, starting on Friday.

But just how do England go about replacing their all-time record run-scorer and arguably their greatest-ever batsman?

The England selectors face a big decision ahead of three Test matches in Sri Lanka in November – as well as the Ashes on the horizon next summer – while they may also need to fill two opening positions moving forward, with Keaton Jennings short of runs and in a last chance saloon situation heading into the final match with India.

Here, our writers weigh up what England will do:

As ever, let us know your thoughts via Twitter and Facebook.

Stuart Appleby says England will change both opening positions: Even if he does get a score in the last Test, there is a feeling that Keaton Jennings is not the right man for the job moving forward and has failed to grasp his second-coming in Test cricket.

Short of confidence at the crease, it would be a wise move to drop Jennings for the winter and consider both Surrey’s Rory Burns and Kent’s experienced batsman Joe Denly to fill the void. At 28 and 32, respectively, they know their games inside out and at least one of them deserves a chance at Test level – as opposed to treading old ground with the likes of James Vince, Dawid Malan or Mark Stoneman. Denly also has previous ODI and T20 international experience.

The alternative option, and a good one at that, would be to hand Jonny Bairstow an opener’s berth – promoting him from No5 – after his apparent demotion from possession of the wicket-keeping gloves, in favour of Jos Buttler. That would be a statement of intent by the selectors to show to the player how important he is, given his apparent sulk at the Ageas Bowl. He is more than capable of moving up and has batted there before.

England's Jonny Bairstow walks back to the pavilion after losing his wicket, during play on the third day of the fourth Test cricket match between England and India at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, south-west England on September 1, 2018. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Could Jonny Bairstow be in line for a promotion?

Alex Broun says Mark Stoneman should be recalled: I am a firm believer that a lot of England’s problems are self-inflicted – chopping and changing personnel constantly and being too hasty to use the axe. A good example is Mark Stoneman who looked solid and technically sound against Australia late last year but was unceremoniously dumped for Jennings after the first Test against Pakistan in May.

Both 31-year-old Stoneman and 26-year-old Jennings have now played 11 Tests each – so it is the perfect time to compare them – and guess who comes out on top? Stoneman, comfortably. Both men have played 20 innings with Stoneman edging the runs scored – 526 to 453 – and average 27.68 to 22.65.

True Keaton has one century to his name – 112 on debut against India in Mumbai in December 2016 – but Stoneman has five 50s. Jennings has not scored a 50 since Chennai in his second Test. Yes Stoneman has not gone on to reach three figures, his highest score is just 60, but Jennings in current form does not look like reaching 100 either.

To me Stoneman is a much more reliable and consistent opener than the flakey Jennings, so it is time to rotate back to the Durham man for the tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies – and my choice to partner him would be Jonny Bairstow, who would enjoy the greater responsibility now he has been relieved off his keeping duties.

Ajit Vijaykumar says England must persist with Keaton Jennings: England might be tempted to look at more promising options but with a proven performer like Cook on his way out, it would be prudent to have one stable(ish) option at the the top. Jennings is by no means the best opener in Test cricket but he has weathered quite the storm against a potent Indian pace attack and has to decent knocks to show for his effort.

His 42 in the first Test and 36 in the second innings of the fourth had a lot of quality. England were trailing in the second innings in Southampton but Jennings showed a lot more application than Cook, bringing back memories of his debut century in Mumbai. Any opener who scores a ton on debut in India and plays a critical role in the second innings of a series deciding Test deserves a longer run.

At the other end, Surrey’s Burns looks the best among the lot in England. He has been scoring runs season after season at the top of the order and at 28 years of age, should be in peak condition fitness wise and cricketing wise. Both openers should be given five or seven Tests to prove themselves without any questions asked and be allowed to play with freedom. Then, England might get one or maybe two long-term opening options.

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