Alastair Cook is nearing yet another notable landmark. The England captain is 36 runs short of 10,000 in Tests and will expect to raise his bat in acknowledgement against Sri Lanka at Headingley next month.
His opening partner will also be under scrutiny, for very different reasons. Another Test series, another debate about who will open with Cook. The man in possession is yet again under pressure, and the list of alternatives to Alex Hales is longer than ever.
If the selectors do move away from the Nottinghamshire man, it could well be towards a player previously tried and discarded. County Championship runs are expected of the candidates, and Sam Robson has started the season in a manner that is hard to ignore.
Robson plundered 231 and 106 against Warwickshire at Lord’s, maintaining his habit of heavy early season scoring. Batting in April and May is supposedly so tricky that it has contributed to a major change in competition rules. It is not an issue for Robson.
Facing the moving ball on juicy early summer wickets has held no problems for the Middlesex man. Since his Championship debut in 2010, Robson averages 47.6 batting in April and May. His average in these months from 2013 onwards is 59.4.
Seven of Robson’s 10 Championship centuries have come in April and May, with four of those tons seeing him pass 150. The Middlesex man is clearly adept at catching the eye early in the season, but if his headquarters haul against the Bears is not enough to edge out Hales, can he maintain this form?
Few of the possible partners for Cook have as many questions asked of their technique as Robson. Adam Lyth’s tendency to fall to an outside edge became apparent last summer, but Robson’s susceptibility to balls moving into him became even more damaging.
Four bowled dismissals in 11 Test innings suggested to some a flaw that was unacceptable for a prospective Test opener. Nicking to the keeper and slips is one thing, missing straight ones is quite another.
However, perhaps too much was read into this mode of dismissal. 14.2% of Robson’s Championship dismissals have been bowled, compared with 23.3% for Hales. The incumbent England opener had his stumps disturbed eight times in 18 Championship innings last year. 22.4% of Nick Compton’s Championship dismissals have been bowled, largely batting in the middle order.
Openers have the hardest job to correct technical issues, as the new ball poses the most challenges. All have weaknesses to some degree and Robson knows what contributed to his England axing. His work in correcting a problem that was not exposed by express pace seems to be bearing fruit.