Sibley or Roy?

Sibley or Roy

For the third Test I’d like to see Dominic Sibley open the batting. To subscribe to this line of reasoning, you’ll need to be persuaded of two things: firstly, it is not necessary to gain experience in “lesser” Test series to ensure peak performance in the Ashes. Secondly, that Sibley is one of the two best opening batsmen England have available.

Opening Up

There’s a school of thought that new players need to be “blooded” to succeed without first playing against weaker teams in the Test format. The data indicates that this is a fallacy.

The 96 openers to make their debut since 2005 scored at an average of 32. That is poor when compared to the average for all openers (36). However, that’s not the right comparative. Weaker players will play fewer Tests, so debutants are of lower ability than the average Test player.

A better way of assessing openers on debut is to compare performance with that player’s career average, adjusted for whether the debut was at home or away. Looking at it that way, players on debut scored three runs more per match than expected.

Why should openers do well on debut?

This is unexpected – often players will debut before their peak, their average will improve as they get better with age. It’s possible that openers are not thrown in at such a young age as middle order batsmen (because it’s a specialist position and no one wants to be 0-1).

Another option is that batsmen had an advantage when the bowler has to played against them before, and is yet to develop a plan. This may have been the case last decade, but is unlikely in modern cricket.

Note that debuts were evenly spread across opponents- it’s not like selectors wait for the weaker opponents before trying new players.

Sibley the Best?

Before the summer, I rated Dominic Sibley as a decent opening batsmen, impressive for a 23 year old, but some way short of Test standard. His expected 2019 First Class average (based on Championship and 2nd XI matches from 2016-18) was 36. That made him at best seventh on the list of possible Test openers. For fans of lists, Burns (51), Stoneman (44), Jennings (42), Mitchell (40), Hales (39) were ahead of him on merit, and Hameed (expected average 36) was also ahead because of his fame.

Fast forward to August 2019. Reflecting Sibley’s spring/summer return of 940 runs in my ratings, his expected Division 1 average jumps to 42. Tied for second place with Stoneman.

Adjusting for age, Sibley would expect to average 34 in Tests.

If one limits the search to red ball cricketers, there could be few complaints with Sibley opening the batting for England.

However, there’s this Roy chap. Top ODI player- averages 43. Can he make it as a Test opener? Leaving his white ball record to one side (because I’ve not looked at the predictive power of white ball results on red ball expectations), in First Class Cricket he averages 38. He has performed better recently: averaging 43 in Division 1 over the last three seasons. However, in those three-and-a-half-seasons he barely played: 32 completed Test/Championship/2nd XI innings while Sibley has 73. Roy didn’t open in either of his games last year.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to give an opener a debut if their record says they are capable.

A reasonable scenario is that Denly (expected Test average 31) picks up 60-80 runs over the course of the Lord’s Test this week, and is dropped on the back of averaging 24 after ten innings.

Sibley to open, Roy slots in at four? Could work.

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