After 10 Tests, Dom Sibley is in a comfortable spot.
Part of that is down to them all coming in a row: worth acknowledging in an England Test side better known for their state of flux since 2012 with a particular penchant for discarding opening batsmen. For those 10 he has played on three different continents and registered six wins.
He’s fitter than he has ever been, improving his aerobic capacity and shedding two stone in the process, which he reckons went someway towards the run out he notched in the third innings of the second Test. “I am feeling a little bit lighter on my feet,” he said on Tuesday when assessing his swoop, pick-up and throw at the striker’s end to see off Asad Shafiq for the fifth wicket. It ended the highest partnership of the Pakistan second innings (38) before England chased their target of 277 with three wickets to spare.
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When it comes to the measurements that really matter, the 24-year old is in pretty good shape there, too. He boasts an average of 39.50 from 632 runs, with two centuries in there. Though he’s happy to round-up the average, there’s a distinct lack of satisfaction that he has only got to three figures a couple of times – against South Africa at the start of the year in Cape Town and in the second Test against West Indies last month.
“I think if you said to me after 10 Test matches you’d be averaging 40 and with two test match hundreds I’d be pleased. But at the same time I do feel sitting here now that I’ve got a lot more to give.
“I’ve only sort of shown myself to a certain level at this stage and I do feel like I’ve let opportunities slip to score maybe four or five hundreds. That might be sounding greedy and it might sound unrealistic but that’s the way I think and I need to keep building on what I’m doing and try and take the positives and try and score a few more big scores this summer.”
That Sibley, despite the solid start, expects more of himself is as much down to Test cricket as it is the team environment.
He admits to being struck by the extra scrutiny at this level after scoring his maiden century and people were still critiquing him. “That was a little bit of an eye-opener,” he said, “because if you get a hundred in county cricket, everyone sings your praises.”
But the fitness, which he tops up with gym work and runs either after play or if he has got out for a low score earlier in the day – “I’ll try and get something done so that I don’t sit around and have tea and biscuits all day watching the other boys get runs” – is aligned with the high standards expected of one another in the England squad.
Setting those standards has been Ben Stokes, not just the fittest in the side but, through an unrivalled work ethic, the best batsman. Sibley cited Stokes as inspiration for his focus on athleticism and the Warwickshire batsman clearly enjoys batting with the left-handed all-rounder. Sibley’s hundreds were part of 260- and 92-run stands shared with the left-handed all-rounder.
But England and Sibley will have to do without Stokes for the remaining two Tests against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl after he had to leave the squad for family reasons. He will be reunited with them in Christchurch, New Zealand, later this week.
Joe Root will not just be losing his vice-captain but vital middle-order runs. Since the start of the year Stokes has scored 641 runs at an average of 58.27, including a mammoth 176 against West Indies this summer. While his bowling can be covered – England opted for four bowlers in the first Test to cover for Stokes who could only send down four overs in the match – the onus will be on the full-time batsman like Sibley to pick up the slack.
“He is a massive part of our team and one of the best players in the world but obviously family comes first and we will be supporting him with everything that is going on. We’ll have to make do in his absence and others will have to step up but we wish Ben all the best.”
Before Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler took England home at Emirates Old Trafford last week, Sibley had played a steady hand of 36 before an awry drive off Yasir Shah nestled into the hands of first slip.
Up until that point, Sibley had not only shown great restraint but also adaptability. Having been pinned LBW by Mohammad Abbas in the first innings for eight, he took guard outside of his crease to the 80mph seamer and ensured he would not get trapped so close to his stumps.
It worked and also suggested a degree of learning on the job that, so far, he is doing admirably.
“I was obviously extremely disappointed with the way I got out in that second innings because I had worked really hard, been really disciplined against him. I did feel like I wanted to be that person, not out at the end when we chased that down. But it wasn’t to be and you try and learn from those mistakes.
“In the ten Test matches I have played, I am trying to learn and improve as much as possible. That’s the thing that I probably need to do a bit better, especially against spin, is try and rotate the strike as much as possible. Be a bit more proactive.
“I’ve been working really hard on that with a few of the guys, Thorpey and a few of the players, chatting to them. It’s a fine balance I suppose because I want to be out there and put such a high price on my wicket and do a good job for the team.”
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