England’s cricketers have seemingly taken it in turns to have heroic years over the past few seasons.
Ben Stokes ‘saved’ the Ashes and the World Cup in 2019; both Stuart Broad and James Anderson hit milestones as they took their 500th and 600th Test wickets respectively and 2021 saw Joe Root score a phenomenal 1,708 runs - the third-highest total on record in a calendar year.
This year, that mantle has once again shifted and it’s Jonny Bairstow who has gifted us with century after century.
However, disaster struck on the golf course for the Yorkshireman who suffered a ‘freak injury’ and England now find themselves having to turn to a new warrior who can see through the reminder of what could be a hard winter.
For the first time since 2005, England are on track to tour Pakistan, before travelling to New Zealand in February 2023.
With one Test match left to go in the South Africa series, we will be given a glimpse of what’s to come with Harry Brook coming in as a straight swap for Bairstow.
However, if this option ends in disaster, England’s selectors will face a complicated dilemma in a year that has already seen so much turmoil for the red-ball side.
Option 1: Keeping Brook at number 5
The 23-year-old Harry Brook, who is also coincidentally, like Bairstow, is from Yorkshire, offers a simple straight swap for the England selectors and has been given a chance to show what he’s worth as he takes on the South African bowlers this weekend.
When first selected for the England squad in June, he was the County Championship’s top run-scorer and now sits seventh on the list with an average of 107.44 and high score of 202.
He has come out in favour of being tried as an opener but for simplicity’s sake - and because the selectors are clearly big fans of the rather disastrous pairing of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley - Brook may offer a rather effortless straight switch into the middle order.
Additionally, Brook scored 140 in England Lions’ win against South Africa earlier in August, further strengthening his case for a call-up.
Now, the Proteas may have been without their most fearsome attacking bowlers, but 140 is still impressive at any level of play.
Brook has been crying out for an opportunity all summer, now finally his time has come to put his money where his mouth is.
Option 2: Ben Duckett
The former England opener has earned himself a late call-up following the ‘freak’ injury of Jonny Bairstow - if you’ve not heard the ridiculous ‘two-footed tackle’ conspiracy theory, it’s well worth seeking out for a laugh.
2022 has marked Duckett’s most successful County Championship campaign since 2016, which was incidentally the same year as his four Tests for England.
He’s racked up 1,012 runs at an average of 72.29 with a high score of 241.
Duckett however preferably plays at number three meaning a potential reshuffle is on the cards.
Ollie Pope would be the most likely victim of this prospective shift as, Stokes will be reluctant to move Root further down the order.
Pope has had a much more consistent summer with an average of 30.54 so far but it would not be a shock if he were pushed back down to his former middle-order position in favour of Duckett having his preferred spot up top.
Option 3: Shuffle the opening pair
Another rather obvious solution - or maybe just a further opportunity for chaos and depression - is the shifting around of other current openers in favour of keeping Harry Brook further down the order.
Zak Crawley and Alex Lees have been a far cry from the success Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss once provided for the squad and it feels the time might have come to switch it around yet again.
But then, the persistent and unrelenting question appears once more: Who is the answer to our opening prayers?
Is it time for Haseeb Hameed to be given another go? He’s grafted hard with Nottinghamshire so far this season, enjoying an average of 57.00 and high score of 196.
Or could turbulent Keaton Jennings return to the squad? With a Pakistan tour on the horizon, he could be the answer given his former success in Asia and proven ability to competently play spin bowling.
Additionally, his triple century earlier this summer has been a firm highlight of the County Championship season and coupled with another century in Lancashire’s ongoing match against Yorkshire, it may not be long before the South African-born batter receives another call-up.
Rory Burns is the other former opener that may have well earned himself a call-up nearly a year after the Ashes culling.
He has an international average of 30.32 (only three of the 18 openers since Strauss have hit at least 30 as an average) and has been enjoying a consistent County Championship campaign with an average of 45.13 and high score of 132.
His averages in Asia may not be the most glowing (25.83 in Sri Lanka and 14.50 in India) but a year out of the international squad will certainly have ensured have deepened his determination to become more reliable at the top.