Lush green top and overcast conditions are a paradise for pace-bowling units, especially one bearing the likes of the new-ball pair of Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach. But on the contrary, such a scenario is quite nervy for any opening pair in world cricket, more so for a pair with a combined appearance of just 21 Tests.
On Wednesday morning, opener Dominic Sibley, who was making only his fifth Test appearance and about whom the only talking point was his weight loss amid the pandemic, was dismissed only in the 10th ball of the game hence getting international cricket off to the most English starts.
England has never been the best place for openers. Ask the Indian team that toured the country in 2018, whose opening pair averaged 23.70 in 10 innings meaning only three 50-plus stands; or the Australian side during the Ashes last summer. Their opening pair averaged only 8.50 with no fifty-plus scores.
Statistically speaking, among all the Test-playing nations, it is in England that opening pairs have averaged the least since 2017, with Sibley's dismissal sending the average down to 18.67. In the last 78 Test innings, only nine half-century stands have been stitched by openers in England.
Average of opening pairs in respective countries since 2017...
|in Sri Lanka||13||49||0||1870||188||38.16||4||12|
|in New Zealand||13||60||2||1965||254||33.87||3||13|
|in South Africa||20||81||1||2645||243||33.06||3||16|
|in West Indies||12||51||1||1260||155||25.2||2||6|
Since 2017, six teams have played a Test series in England and none have had an opening-partnership average of more than 25. With India being the only team to have managed at least one fifty-plus stands. Moreover, even the host nation hasn't been bereft of this misfortune. In those six series that England have played, the opening pair averaged 22.18, marginally less than India, with six half-century stands.
How touring opening pairs have fared in England since 2017...
One primary reason behind this struggle is the extremely difficult conditions that England for Test cricket. According to CricViz, since 2018, the ball had seamed more in England with an average of 0.72 degrees, and swung with an average of little less than one degree, which only second to West Indies (about 1.15 degrees). Wednesday's condition was however tougher. CricViz recorded an average of 1.3 degrees. The last English Test when such a high degree of swing was witnessed was in the Ireland game last year.
Sibley's dismissal was however largely due to an ill-advised left alone but was aided by that massive lateral movement. Gabriel, who was a late addition to the West Indies squad owing to his ankle issue, placed the bait with an outswinger in the previous delivery before jagging a length ball in off the seam which Sibley daftly left alone only to see the ball rattling against the off stump. A similar ply was used against Rory Burns as well, in the previous over, by Kemar Roach. The inswinger flicked the pads after Burns left the ball urging West Indies to take a review in the first over itself. The impact was outside the line.
Joe Denly then brought in some stability and combined with Burns to rebuild the innings after Windies brought in Alzarri Joseph into the attack before bad light and impertinent rain urged umpires to call off the day after just 17.4 overs of play.