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New Zealand v England

Rory Burns unlocks the next level of his journey in Hamilton

by Taha Hashim 5 minute read

Taha Hashim on Rory Burns, who showed great resolve on his way to 101 on day three of the second Test between England and New Zealand.

Forget the century, his first overseas and second overall. Rory Burns’ greatest achievement is that he’s in New Zealand.

It was in November last year, against Sri Lanka, that Burns made his Test debut, stepping into the sizeable shoes of Alastair Cook. And so when he emerged with bat in hand alongside Dom Sibley in Mount Maunganui, it meant he’d passed through a year on the job without being surplus to requirements at any point, a feat unprecedented in the post-Strauss era of new England openers.

There have been tough times, most notably against Ireland at Lord’s, where two scores of six had the pundits giving him the boot ahead of the Ashes. At that point there had been a couple of half-centuries in the winter, but little to write home about. He moved on.

After a little bit of help from his mentor Neil Stewart, Burns went to Edgbaston and collected that much cherished item: a Test hundred.

Since then, even without the big score, he’s valiantly blunted the new ball. In an Ashes series where openers walked to the crease as a formality rather than to make any real dent in the shine, Burns finished with solid if not spectacular returns of 390 runs at an average of 39, having faced more balls than Cook ever had in a home Test series.

There were occasions where the forces of Cummins and Hazlewood had him under siege. The short ball was the Aussies’ favoured weapon, but this is a man capable of withstanding a beating, resilient in a manner that few England openers have been in recent years.

On Saturday evening Burns survived a drop in the slips and one at midwicket; he didn’t look a man set for a hundred and stood in stark contrast to his New Zealand counterpart Tom Latham, who had three figures written all over him as soon as he marked his guard on day one.

On Sunday morning a bumper from the ever tenacious Neil Wagner thudded into Burns’ chest. He moved on.

Two overs later, Burns unleashed two pull shots that lasered away for four, and finally, there came the feeling that he was going to be alright.

There’s a paradox to Burns, too. That ungainly technique appears a triumph of function over form, and with so many moving parts so obviously on show, it’s easy to think that one tick falling out of sync could prove disastrous. But he can be pretty – when he drives down the ground and through the covers, the extension of the arms is nothing short of appetising. Even a regulation cut behind square off Daryl Mitchell today oozed some class. And by now there should be no doubt about his ability to grind back into the groove when out of it.

A single brought up the landmark and out came his trademark bow. His lackadaisical dismissal will no doubt be a source of disappointment, a run out coming back for a second that meant he departed with frustration just minutes after his celebration. But it also feels fitting in a way. Burns’ rise has been built on stages. First came the 59 in Pallekele, and then the 84 in Bridgetown. The hundred came later. Others that have come and gone have raised their helmets at earlier stages (Keaton Jennings, Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Nick Compton), but fallen by the wayside quickly. Now he has a ton abroad. Burns is a man of time, every step of the way a chance to reassess – the big, big hundreds will come later. The average is still just 32.81, but that will climb too. He will move on.

For now England can rest easy with the fact that they have an opener ready to take on every task that comes his way, but not before he glances at mid-on, of course.

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