'Standout' Dom Sibley has earned Test chance, says old Surrey partner Rory Burns

Dom Sibley and Rory Burns walk out to open the innings Getty Images

Rory Burns has only played a dozen Tests but looks set to link-up with his fifth* opening partner later this week in Mount Maunganui. But this time, at least, there will be a familiar face at the other end when he takes strike.

While Dominic Sibley may have left Burns' county, Surrey, a couple of years ago, the pair played a huge amount of cricket together as they were growing up. As well as providing many lifts to training and matches, Burns was also at the other end when Sibley made his Surrey debuts for the first-team and the seconds, as well as his debut in an England shirt last week in Whangarei. (Indeed, it is probably a reflection of England's reliance upon private schools that three of England's last four openers - Burns, Sibley and Jason Roy - all attended Whitgift.)

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As a result, Burns is well placed to offer a view on Sibley's capabilities as opener.

"I've known Sibbo for - we were trying to work it out the other day - since I was 12 or 13," Burns said. "I don't really remember him at school because I left Whitgift at 16. But I remember seeing him down at academy stuff, Surrey stuff and he only lives a town down so I gave him a lot of lifts when he was coming through in the second team. I remember driving him to most of those games. I won't have to drive him to this week: we've got the coach

"It would be a pretty cool feeling to open with him on his Test debut, too. I'm very proud of him to have got to where he has, particularly having left Surrey and doing what he's done at Warwickshire. That's a testament to him as a character.

"He showed all his attributes: his determination and his character to bat for days at a time, to put up the weight of runs he did and to bat the number of balls he did in tricky conditions you get in county cricket with a lot of assistance for bowlers a lot of the time. He's earned his spot."

While Burns is somewhat defensive of Roy's record - and not just because Roy served as one of his best men only a few weeks ago (Surrey seamer Matt Dunn was the other) - he accepts that Sibley may be more obviously suited to the role of Test opener.

"Obviously Jason's main grounding is white-ball cricket, but his red-ball cricket is very good as well. I don't think we can judge him on his Test career batting out of position," Burns said. "But I think him and Sibs' styles are slightly different. Sibs is more traditional in terms of opening the batting in red-ball cricket because that's where he's learned most of his stuff.

"His concentration levels and determination to go about that process are his strong points. He likes batting time, he can bat days at a time and he's willing to grind bowlers down and not necessarily race away at the start of an innings. He's willing to build an innings and wait for people to come to him and pick them off when he can. Sibbo was the standout batter in the country regardless of position."

There is little doubt Sibley has earned this opportunity. He not only scored more than 300 more runs than any man in Division One of the Championship in 2019, he faced more than a thousand deliveries more than anyone else in that division. But the New Zealand bowlers will have noted that he was struck on the grille of the helmet by an excellent short ball during the game against the New Zealand A side and flashed at one outside off stump a few minutes later. More short balls are likely.

As for Burns, he is probably as established as any England opener since the years of Andrews Strauss and Alastair Cook. He has already achieved something Cook never could - a century in a home Ashes series - while his tally of runs in that series (390) also surpassed anything Cook ever achieved against Australia at home. Bearing in mind how tough opening the batting was in the summer of 2019 - David Warner averaged 9.50, remember - his average of 39.00 was a fine effort.

He has also looked an asset in the field, taking some sharp catches in the cordon, and there have been early whispers that he could, one day, emerge as a leadership contender.

"You're never truly settled because there's always another Test coming," Burns said. "New Zealand have got a fine bowling attack to try and expose any weaknesses in your game. It's a summer to build on for me, but at the end of it there were a few scores I left out there. So there's a lot to keep improving upon."

There sure is. But, in picking two specialist openers to combat the new ball, England are, at last, giving themselves the best opportunity to improve in New Zealand.

*Oh, and just in case you are wracking your brain trying to remember Burns' Test opening partners, they are: Keaton Jennings, Joe Denly, Jack Leach and Roy.