Is Sibley the answer to England’s top-order problem?


Dominic Sibley’s 244 for Warwickshire this week has intensified the calls for him to be selected in the top-three of England’s batting order.

He could be vying for a place with, or indeed end up playing alongside, Surrey’s Jason Roy. Furthermore, the top three could end up as the Surrey pairing of Roy and Rory Burns and the ex-Surrey Sibley.

If Sibley does play for England, it will be one further part of a jigsaw involving Surrey’s batting order and England selection, not all of which has worked out neatly.

Sibley had left Surrey as he wanted better opportunities and to bat higher in the order. He had broken into the Surrey side as an opener, but what chances later came to him were often down the order.

Mark Stoneman left ECB-relegated Durham for Surrey hoping to improve his chances of England selection. It worked, but this displaced Sibley from the opening spot and, ultimately, the county.

England had asked Surrey to bat Jason Roy higher in first-class cricket so Roy was settled down in the number 4 berth. Roy has not (yet?) been selected for the test side, but his Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope was last year — and batted at four for England when he had never batted in this, Roy’s, position for Surrey.

In 2013 against Yorkshire at The Oval, in only his third first-class game and opening the batting aged 18 years and 21 days, Dominic Sibley had become the youngest player to make a double century in the county championship.

That also made him the second-youngest English double centurion after one WG Grace. A sports scholar at Whitgift School, Sibley was 15 when he had made his Surrey 2nd XI debut.

Surrey’s Director of Cricket, Alec Stewart, explained when Sibley joined Warwickshire in August 2017: “Dom told me the reason he is leaving is that he feels his opportunities at Warwickshire would be greater, given the written assurances he has received that he will be batting in the top three in all forms of the game next year. This was not something that I was prepared to do — for him or any of our players.”

Ashley Giles, at the time Stewart’s opposite number at Warwickshire, welcomed the signing of “an outstanding cricketer with England potential.”

Others are now talking of this England potential. Partly this is because almost anyone who can hold a bat the right way up has someone touting them as a possible top-three bat for England; partly is because Sibley is the man in form, and also it is because he is a limited, slightly stodgy batsman.

The form aspect first: his 244 this week against Kent brought him to 922 championship runs this season at 70.92. Only Joe Root, who has only batted thrice, has a better Division 1 average this year.

That Sibley is a limited batsman prepared to graft and stick it out as an old-fashioned anchor man is in his favour. When England’s top order gets blown away too quickly too often, a chap who will hang in there has a certain attraction.

Attractiveness and Sibley’s batting rarely sit together otherwise. He has an open stance and accumulates on the leg side, although his rare forays on the offside are often more productive in that they go towards the boundary. His scoring rate this season is 42 per 100 balls — only three men in the top 50 of the Division One batting averages have scored slower.

Lest we forget, what England are looking for is a replacement for Alastair Cook, a man with few shots and little, to be frank, by the way of style but lots by the way of effectiveness and stickability.

Sibley’s batting has come on, as one may expect, from that early double century. I have just looked up my report of that knock:

Lyth, who has been a distinctly fallible slipper this season, dropped Sibley on eight and Bairstow put a simple catch off him down on 151, both off Sidebottom’s bowling. Sibley’s batting was unflustered and unhurried on a docile pitch… His innings did not lack big shots. He twice lofted Williamson for six to wide long on – he was at his boldest when playing front-foot scoops between mid wicket and mid on — and hit 24 fours in his 242. But it lacked the little shots for ones and twos, certainly until the field dropped back in the latter part of his ten-hour innings. Sibley’s century came up off 301 balls with a six and 12 fours; Amla’s came off 179 fewer balls but with three fewer boundaries.

Sibley’s county captain, Jeetan Patel, believes that Sibley is now “batting like an opening test batter in that he’s scoring where he can and being smart about the options outside of that. He is aware of his off stump so he’s leaving well and he’s scoring well on the leg side.”

“He’s smart about the way he trains and the way he thinks about the game and if he gets selected then good on him for he will have deserved what he has done.”

“But I have not played test cricket for years and never played in an Ashes so it would be stupid for me to say if he’s ready or not.”


About Author

Comments are closed.