Edgbaston: England’s search for a successor to Sir Alastair Cook ended less than one year after his retirement from Test cricket when Rory Burns, on 99, picked out a fatigued Australian fast bowler at mid-on and ran through for his first Test century. Burns thereby became the first opening batsman, other than Cook, to make a Test century for England at home since 2015.
Cook and Burns have much in common, being dark-haired, phlegmatic, captaincy material, good “leavers” outside off stump, and more handsome of visage than technique: for both their bread-and-butter shot is not the sumptuous straight drive but a push to midwicket. Best of all, perhaps, so far as England’s prospects are concerned, Burns is inheriting not only the song which the Barmy Army used to sing about “Ally Cook, Ally Cook, Ally, Ally Cook!” but his propensity to convert a Test hundred into a major innings.
Burns batted through the second day for an unbeaten 125 to blunt Australia’s four-man attack before falling for 133 on third day. This was England’s strategic objective, into which Burns’s maiden Test hundred fitted: for their top order to grind down the opposition’s pace bowlers, as Cook often did over a dozen years, so that England’s lower order can make merry.
The first innings of an Ashes series is akin to a ship capsizing: it is a question of how many batsmen can reach the lifeboat, clamber aboard and man the oars.
Burns had shown the makings of a successor to Cook with one half-century in Sri Lanka and a second in the West Indies. In his eighth Test, he combined his skill against spin with his handling of pace to make a complete package - except, perhaps, he has yet to acquire Cook’s ruthless self-discipline in playing within his limitations. Cook never square-drove, except perhaps for when both the moon and ball were full; and Burns might benefit from eschewing the shot as his few alarms came when he chased the ball outside off.
Roy did not last but it was not batsman’s error so much as a fine ball, angled in, which bounced too much even though Roy tried to play it down. As they have known each other more than half their lives, Burns and Roy looked an assured couple at the crease.
Burns’s low point occurred when Australia took the second ball - but not a new one - after 60 overs, as the first would no longer pass through the umpire’s gauge. It was bouncier and swung more, as Burns found when beaten three times in one over by Pat Cummins. Denly was beaten by a ball shaping in, and Buttler caught low down at third slip by one bouncing and shaping away.
Burns, unflustered, survived and by the second new ball Australia’s three pace bowlers were “cooked”, as they would say, or “Cooked” - or even the victim of first-degree Burns.
- The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2019