England do not have a dearth of players capable of opening the batting in white-ball cricket and after a blistering innings of 71 from Tom Banton on Friday night the list has lengthened. He cleared some of the longest boundaries in the country five times in the first of three T20 internationals and he did so in a manner that eluded the other batsmen on an Old Trafford surface that has spent most of the last few days under the covers. Sadly those covers soon returned along with the rain after England had scored 131 for six from 16.1 overs and it declined to go away in time to produce any sort of match. They will try again on Sunday.
Banton played against Ireland in the recent 50-over matches, scoring one half-century in the middle order, after which he admitted that he found it a strange and tricky experience batting there since the majority of his success at county level against the white ball has been as an opening batsman for Somerset. He would not have been opening here but for the side strain acquired by Jason Roy earlier in the week.
It was a mini-landmark innings for Banton and he is realistic enough to recognise that there is a long way to go before he can be a regular in the best T20 team. “The white ball side is so good that I’m not going to break into it at the moment. And I don’t like to look too far ahead,” he said when asked about the prospects of making England’s T20 squad next year.
“There is a lot of cricket before then. I just want to score as many runs as I can to make it difficult for the selectors not to pick me.”
An innings like this will, however, do wonders for his confidence. Banton could not sprint out of the blocks at the start, which made his knock all the more impressive. The pitch may have been tacky, the outfield slow, the boundaries distant and the guiles of a left-handed trio of Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim did not allow many liberties. Initially Banton could not score at more than a run a ball and nor could anyone else. Jonny Bairstow departed in the first over after giving a return catch to Imad and Dawid Malan also struggled to time the ball.
Banton, having survived a chance to slip on five, stayed calm and then began to display both muscle and finesse. England only had 25 from five overs when Banton powered a boundary to midwicket and ramped to fine leg but the accelerator was pressed most firmly when the leg-spinner Shadab Khan was introduced for the eighth over. Banton drove fiercely at the first delivery and was never close to middling it yet the ball just cleared long-on – it is always ominous when the mis-hits go for six. The next ball was probably middled since it was soon to be seen deep in the empty stands.
Now Banton was on his way, driving and ramping and climbing the T20 pecking order in the process. For example this innings was not especially good news for Alex Hales.
After a partnership of 71 Malan ran himself out when his call for a silly single was rejected. Morgan sat back and admired while another 35 were added.
Then Banton’s innings ended with his 42nd delivery when he skied a drive against the resilient Shadab. Thereafter the innings faltered badly. Eoin Morgan was unreviewably lbw when sweeping; Moeen Ali brilliantly caught behind by the irrepressible Mohammad Rizwan, one of three Test players in the Pakistan team; and Lewis Gregory was stumped just before the rain returned.
This was a far better day for Banton than another highly talented young England cricketer. Ollie Pope has been ruled out of any cricket for four months after dislocating his left shoulder (not for the first time) when fielding in the final Test. Pope had a scan on Wednesday and he will have surgery within the next fortnight. It is hoped he will be fit enough for the projected winter tours against Sri Lanka and India in early 2021.