England suffered a huge blow on the eve of the second Test in Cape Town when opening batsman Rory Burns was ruled out for the rest of the series with ligament damage sustained to his left ankle.
Burns picked up the injury while playing football on Thursday morning ahead of the visitors’ net session at Newlands. Having turned towards goal, he was put under pressure by England captain Joe Root and got a shot away with his left foot. It was when trying to re-establish his footing that his ankle buckled. Having tried to walk it off, he went to the floor and removed his boot to allow team doctor Anita Biswas tend to the injury.
The left-hander had top-scored in England’s previous Test in Johannesburg with 84, which South Africa won by 107 runs to establish a 1-0 lead with three matches to go. He has been one of the few success stories of this Test side, having established himself last summer, registering two hundreds and an average of 35.82 in 2019. He has also been exceptional in the field, making gully his own in a cordon that had struggled for consistency of personnel and taking chances.
The England management have not confirmed an XI for the second Test – they are also awaiting scan results on Jofra Archer’s right elbow though it seems likely he will not feature. But if training was any indication, it looks like Zak Crawley, the 21-year old Kent right-hander, will open as Burns’ replacement. He averaged 31 in Division One last year, with two centuries, and is regarded as one of the more exceptional talents of his generation.
The manner of Burns’ injury will reignite the debate as to whether England should play football as a warm-up. To a man, the squad enjoy the game and see it as the ideal preparation for nets or indeed matches as it gets their juices going, allows them to stretch their legs and incorporates fun into their routine.
But Burns is now the second play in the last 14 months to have been felled by football after Jonny Bairstow also hurt his ankle before a Test series in Sri Lanka. He ended up missing the first Test, with Ben Foakes coming in to keep and also scoring a century on debut.
Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, did not impose his power by banning football when he took his post this time last year despite being against it as a warm-up. He took the decision to prohibit his teams from playing football while at Warwickshire and Lancashire but decided to give the benefit of doubt to the players when coming into the national set-up. Now, with their most productive opener out of the series, he will no doubt be firmer with his stance.
While Crawley fits the bill as a replacement opener, England could well call-up a batsman as cover, which could mean Dawid Malan. The 32-year old left-hander, who played 15 Tests and scored 724 runs – averaging 27.8 – is a good player of pace, as noted by his Ashes century of 140 at Perth in the 2017/18 series. He would be able to bat any position between No.3 and 6.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies