England missed out on winning the T20 World Cup in 2016, but they are quite well prepared to go all the way come the 2020 edition. Their squad looks well balanced in most areas. Not only their first team is strong but they have a decent reserve pool for every role as well. However, one area that still looks a little unsettled is probably their opening slot.
It's not that they are struggling to produce proper openers but their problem is the abundance of options for the same slot. England have as many as four genuine openers in Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales to choose from and each of them have proved their mettle as a top-order batsman over the years. Moreover, there are players like Dawid Malan and Tom Banton in the reserve pool as well who have come up with decent performances of late.
However, the aforementioned four players are the best of the lot and thus they have created a happy headache for England as far as the opening slot is concerned.
One of those slots, however, is already sealed as the England team management highly prefers Jason Roy. He has opened in 21 out of the 30 T20Is for the team since the last T20 World Cup, whereas Buttler has done that in only eight matches followed by Bairstow and Hales in seven each. Roy has repaid their faith too, having scored 563 runs at an excellent strike-rate of 156.13, which includes four fifties as well.
So the remaining opening slot is now up for grabs between Buttler, Bairstow and Hales. The latter of the three currently finds himself out of favour as he was in the news recently for recreational drug use. His ban, however, is over and he is available for selection again. On the other hand, both Buttler and Bairstow were part of the England XI recently in their series against South Africa. Buttler opened the innings along with Roy whereas Bairstow batted at number three, and both of them performed their duties well in the roles assigned to them.
However, if we are to find a better opener between these three options, we have to dig deeper into their performances over the last two years across the format.
There's no doubt that all these players were exceptionally talented ever since their early days in cricket but they have really come off age as batsmen in the duration of the last couple of years.
Out of these three batsmen, Hales has played the most number of T20s (72) as an opener during this period and has scored the most number of runs (2083) as well. Buttler has played 33 matches during this period followed by Bairstow with 17 outings as an opener. Buttler and Bairstow's sample sizes might be small as compared to Hales but they are significant enough to analyze their quality through other metrics.
On comparing batting average, strike-rate, Balls per Boundary (BpB), Innings per 30+ score and Boundary Ball Percentage (BBP), we find that Buttler and Bairstow have far better numbers than Hales with respect to all metrics. So it doesn't look like bringing back Hales will be in the mind of the national selectors and the team management if these numbers are considered.
However, the fascinating part is how marginal the difference between Buttler and Bairstow's quality as openers is. While the former has a better average and BpB, the latter has a marginally better strike-rate, ratio of innings to 30+ scores and BBP.
Bairstow had a terrific season as an opener with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League. He formed a formidable opening partnership with David Warner and amassed an individual total of 445 runs during the course of the tournament at a sensational average and strike-rate of 55.62 and 157.41 respectively. He scored a hundred as well, a fabulous innings of 114, which is his career-best score now. So his stint with the Hyderabad team really brought the best out of Bairstow as an opener.
Now the question is -- who should open regularly in T20Is for England along with Roy? It should probably be Bairstow considering that he is a top-order batsman majorly and his numbers as an opener are almost similar to that of Buttler. The latter is, however, is accustomed to batting at all positions and will do a fine job anywhere in their lineup.