When Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley walk out to bat for England during this week’s First Test against New Zealand it will be a new opening partnership forged on the playing fields of Croydon.
Like Jason Roy before him, Sibley, 24, spent his school days at Whitgift and his formative cricketing years at the Surrey academy.
It’s a path that Burns, five years the senior to Sibley, also trod and now that Roy has departed following an underwhelming Ashes series, he will take guard opposite another Whitgift old boy in Sibley, who will make his debut in Mount Maunganui when the opening Test starts on Wednesday night.
Such is the age gap between England’s newest top-order pair, Burns doesn’t have much recollection of his new international team-mate from their school days in Croydon. They did, though, spend plenty of time together during their early years at Surrey.
“I don’t really remember Sibbo at school because I left Whitgift at 16,” said Burns. “But I remember seeing him down at academy stuff, Surrey stuff and he only lives a town down so I gave him a lot of lifts when he was coming through in the second team.”
Sibley left The Oval for Warwickshire two years ago and has flourished since his move to the midlands, top scoring in Division One of the County Championship last summer with 1,324 runs.
He also faced 1,009 more balls than any other batsman in the top tier and his selection marks a departure for an England team who under new coach Chris Silverwood are attempting to go back to basics in their approach to batting in Test cricket.
Roy’s selection on the back of his excellent white-ball form summed up the more cavalier approach of Trevor Bayliss, Silverwood’s predecessor.
Burns, himself a batsman whose doggedness and application was evident during an Ashes series that saw him score his maiden Test century at Edgbaston in August, is aware of the differences in his two most recent partners. “Obviously, Jason’s main grounding is white-ball cricket,” he said: “Sibs is more traditional in terms of opening the batting and batting in red ball because that’s where he’s learned most of his stuff.”
Burns is close friends with Roy, who was best man at his wedding last month. Yet his bonds with Sibley (left) also run deep and he is effusive in his praise of the new man, who scored a century in his first innings for England during the opening warm-up match against a New Zealand XI in Whangarei last week.
“His concentration levels are his main strengths,” said Burns. “I think over a period now he likes batting time, he can bat days at a time and he’s willing to grind bowlers down and not necessarily race away at the start of an innings.
“But he’s willing to build an innings and wait for people to come to him and pick them off when he can. I’m very proud of him to have got to where he’s got to, particularly having left Surrey and doing what he’s done at Warwickshire. That’s a testament to him as a character.
“If you look around the County Championship, Sibbo was the standout batter regardless of position. To put up the weight of runs he did and to bat the number of balls he did in tricky conditions was impressive. He’s earned his spot.”
Burns, who hit 390 runs at 39 against a brilliant Australian attack during the Ashes, will be playing his 13th Test this week after he made his debut against Sri Lanka at Galle last November.
So, a year down the line, does he now feel established? “You’re never truly settled because there’s always another Test coming,” he said. “New Zealand have got a fine bowling attack and there’s a lot to keep improving on.”