First-degree Burns leads charge with maiden Test century
England's search for a successor to 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. 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.
Of Australia's batsmen on day one, only Steve Smith and Travis Head briefly, got into this series. On day two, it was midshipman Burns who led the boarding party - and so successfully that England finished only 17 runs behind with six wickets left, with Stokes running up the skull-and-crossbones during his fifth-wicket stand with Burns worth 73 so far.
Still a long way to dry land: England require a first-innings lead close to three figures to counteract the disadvantage of batting last on a dried-out pitch against Nathan Lyon, who has finally worked out the right pace to bowl on it - which is not white-ball mode.
But Burns, Joe Root, who made an painstaking 57 in his stand of 132 with Burns, and Stokes are all up and running, while even the Ashes debutants Jason Roy and Joe Denly have shown they are not behind the pace to live at this level.
England lost Roy in reaching 71 by lunch, Root in reaching 170 by tea, then Denly and Jos Buttler in the final session of a long day when Australia felt the lack of a fifth bowler.
The rub of the green, as well as the crowd, was with England - some compensation for being a 10-man team after James Anderson's calf injury.
Root, when nine, was bowled by James Pattinson, yet his off bail - though bouncing up - did not fall off; and the poor umpiring worked in England's favour when Burns, on 21, was pinned by Lyon in front of leg stump only Joel Wilson gave him not out; and Tim Paine also had a poor day, failing to review that decision then calling for an implausible one, as well as backing off by posting a deep cover for Burns, which allowed him the breathing space of singles against Lyon.
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.
Roy did not last but Burns and Roy looked an assured couple at the crease. In scoring at a similar rate to Cook, Burns laid the foundations for what could be England's first total of 400, in their first innings, since Cook's double-century in Melbourne. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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