Peter Hayter speaks to Marcus Trescothick about the prospects of Tom Abell as a future England opener…
With England’s Test selectors seemingly still scratching their heads over who should open alongside Alastair Cook in the upcoming summer series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan (and beyond), former star Marcus Trescothick is urging them to keep a close eye on the progress of his Somerset opening partner, Tom Abell.
Abell, 22, has made only one first-class century, 131 out of a first-wicket stand of 272 with the veteran left-hander against Hampshire at the County Ground last September. But the ex-Taunton schoolboy has been highly rated since he made 95 against Warwickshire on his First XI debut in late 2014. And Trescothick believes good early season form, starting in their Championship opener against Durham at Chester-le-Street, should encourage England to factor him into their thinking as they continue their search for a long-term solution to the problem that has dogged them since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
Trescothick, who made his first-class debut six months before Abell was born – and, at 40, is entering his 23rd season for the club – has no doubts his young protege possesses the tools to succeed at the highest level and believes he has done his future prospects no harm by spending the winter playing Grade cricket in Perth.
“Tom is a good young kid with a fantastic temperament,” says Trescothick, “He has everything he needs to go to the next level. He is already on the England radar. I don’t think they will fast track him, but it all depends on how many runs he scores. If he has a good season, who knows? They might bump him up quickly and give him an opportunity.
“England have chopped and changed at the top since Strauss retired as they have searched for someone to fill that role, and maybe a few have been a bit unlucky. So it is a good time for someone to come through. While there are many good middle-order players around the country, specialist openers are a bit sparse and Tom could fill that gap nicely in years to come. As a batsman he is very classical, solid in defence and while not a basher of the ball, he is nice to watch.
“He’s fit, strong, loves the game and is a brilliant guy to have in the dressing room. He has the right character to make it to the next level. It’s now about getting the chance to show what he can do.”
Trescothick admits that playing alongside young emerging talent is one of the reasons to relish batting well into his forties.
“When Tom and I put on our big stand against Hampshire last season, people said it was like watching me bat with my young lad. I do try to pass on knowledge as best I can, but Tom doesn’t need a great deal of help from me. He has a good brain and is excellent at working things out for himself.”
Despite achieveing an impressive series win in South Africa, England face tricky problems over selection in several areas, the most pressing requirement to find an opener with whom Cook can forge a successful partnership.
Since Strauss retired at the end of the home series against South Africa in 2012, Cook has walked to the wicket with no fewer than eight different no.2s – Nick Compton, Joe Root, Sam Robson, Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali and, most recently, Alex Hales.
Most have had their moments; Compton, Robson and Lyth all made centuries, but were ultimately discarded nonetheless.
Hales, given his chance against South Africa in the second half of the winter, was hardly an unqualified success, with a top score of 60 in the second Test in Cape Town, and a total of 136 at an average of just 17, doing little to dispel the notion held by some observers that he is more suited to the white-ball game.
Hales ruled himself out of this season’s Indian Premier League in order to concentrate on furthering his Test ambitions, but has been rested from Nottinghamshire’s opening Championship matches. Lyth and Compton will both be keen to impress in his absence, and England could choose to resurrect the Yorkshireman’s career, which came to a halt at the end of last summer with an Ashes win but no place on either of the winter tours.
Sharing three century stands and three more of fifty-plus with Cook, Compton is statistically the most successful of those tried and dumped. And, after having picked him at number three against South Africa, England have the option of elevating him, then looking at the likes of Gary Ballance, James Taylor or even, after his brilliant World T20, Jason Roy, for places from three down.
Clearly, with only 19 first-class appearances behind him, Abell must be judged a work-in-progress. Some will caution that the temptation to throw him in too soon should be resisted at all costs.
But if Trescothick’s knowledge, judgement and experience count for anything, it will be well worth the selectors monitoring his progress in the coming months. For, as Cook himself has proved since making his Test debut at 21, not to mention Root, at the same age, lengthy apprenticeships are not always necessary.
Trescothick is sure Abell is willing and he may soon be ready as well.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 8 2016