Aussies burned by opener's experiences Down Under
Lessons gleaned from stints in Adelaide and Sydney helped England repel tourists' attack throughout day two at Edgbaston
Andrew Ramsey in Birmingham
3 August 2019, 06:59 AM AEST
Despite entering this Ashes series bearing a modest Test record and an unflattering comparison between his batting method and a crustacean, it should have come as little surprise to Australia that Rory Burns peeled off a gritty maiden century.
That's because, over the course of a couple of summers earlier in his career, Australia played an integral part in training him.
The 28-year-old with the unorthodox left-handed batting approach recorded an unconquered Test ton in his first Ashes outing, an achievement rendered all the more remarkable for the criticism he copped coming into the series opener at Edgbaston.
After a pair of failures – he scored six and six – at the top of the order against Ireland a week ago, many an English expert predicted he would be dumped from the line-up to face a far more experienced and potent Australia attack in the Ashes.
But while admitting to "burying my head in the sand" to remain immune from the critics (among the most staunch of whom was ex-Australia captain, Ian Chappell), Burns drew on his experiences down under to conjure the innings of his life.
It's more than six years since he attended the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide, and spent part of the 2012-13 southern summer playing for Premier Cricket club Tea Tree Gully alongside current Australia Test vice-captain Travis Head.
Burns returned to Australia the following season, where he played for Randwick-Petersham and opened the batting with David Warner in a T20 fixture against the University of New South Wales (he made 23 from 14 balls before being dismissed by current Tasmania quick, Tom Rogers).
But while he was in Sydney, he also came under the tuition of former Australia opener (now New South Wales men's team coach) Phil Jaques, who helped make some crucial adjustments to the opener's idiosyncratic technique.
"The Darren Lehmann (Academy) is quite an intense thing in itself – a lot of running, a lot of batting," Burns said shortly after ending day two of his first Ashes Test unbeaten on 125.
"Shaun Siegert, the man who heads it up there, always used to say 'find a way'.
"That's probably something that's stood me in good stead throughout my career.
"And the time in Sydney, I just found getting myself to different places and having different experiences with different teammates and different people … it's really a thing just to broaden yourself, not just your cricket but as a person as well.
"I had some very enjoyable times out there (in Australia) and so probably a big thank you to two of my clubs."
The advice that Jaques imparted – for Burns to loosen his hands on the bat handle and bring greater freedom to his stroke-play – was pivotal, although not immediately obvious among the myriad of quirks in his game.
The most striking feature of the Surrey captain, who began his cricket as a specialist wicketkeeper, is the way he sets up to face opposition bowlers.
To maximise the role of his dominant left-eye, he overtly twists his head over his right shoulder and towards mid-wicket – rather like someone in a busy street who suspects they’re being followed – to properly align his vision.
That takes place after he's settled into his stance having extended the bat (clasped in both hands, choked low on the handle) out in front of himself, as if he's laid eyes on an unfamiliar piece of equipment for the very first time.
The final flourish is the exaggerated pointing of his derierre in the direction of the square leg umpire to create a picture of a most unlikely Test player, a feature that has compounded the criticism when runs have eluded him.
Another noticeable mannerism is the deliberate gaze upwards towards the sun when he first emerges from the dressing room at the start of an innings or a session, to adjust his vision to the ambient light as was Ian Chappell's calling card in his playing days.
And it was Chappell who, in the wake of Burns's dual failures at Lord's against a nation playing its first Test match at cricket's spiritual home, offered the most withering assessment of the England opener's Ashes prospects.
"Rory Burns – he's lucky to be averaging 22," Chappell told Macquarie Sports Radio in Australia last week, citing Burns' then Test average of 22.29.
"He looks like a crippled crab, Rory Burns, facing up – and he's not good enough to be playing Test cricket.
"I don't know how you can select a Rory Burns even though he's made a lot of runs, which he has done in county cricket.
"You've got to look at home (when batting) and with that technique, that can't succeed against good bowlers and that's what you face in Test cricket."
Yet Burns withstood all that Australia's four frontline bowlers – Pat Cummins. James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon – could hurl his way, as well as a few overs from part-timers Matthew Wade and his former teammate Head over more than six-and-a-half hours.
To not only have survived that initiation, but completed it with a treasured maiden Test hundred to his name and his place in Ashes folklore assured means he can continue to ignore those critics whose words he had remained oblivious to.
And even though he is grateful for the lessons he learned and the wisdom he gained from his stints in Australia, there was never any chance of him holding a soft spot for the rival Test nation in the heat of an Ashes battle.
As was shown after a handful of members from England's famed 2005 Ashes-winning team – Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Paul Collingwood – addressed the England team at their Birmingham hotel on Test eve last Wednesday night.
"To be an Ashes cricketer in the first place is a wonderful thing," Burns said when asked what it meant to have added his name to the roll call of Ashes Test century makers.
"We had a connection with some past players, the 2005 Ashes winners, the night before (this Test) and I was literally ready to run through a brick wall at that stage, and get right in amongst it.
"So the night before, I probably faced my first ball a few times and I probably celebrated a hundred a couple of times.
"Then, to get over the line today is a wonderful feeling, and a wonderful experience to have."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval