ADAM LYTH believes he can provide the answer to England’s opening batting conundrum as the battle hots up to partner Alastair Cook in the Test team.
Lyth goes into tomorrow’s second and final unofficial Test between England Lions and South Africa A in Bloemfontein seeking the sort of substantial contribution that would raise his hopes of a Test debut when England return to five-day action in the West Indies in April.
The Yorkshire left-hander is vying with Lions’ team-mates and present Test opener Sam Robson, Yorkshire colleague Alex Lees and possibly Jonathan Trott for the disputed position alongside Cook, with all contenders performing well in South Africa.
Lyth and Robson scored centuries in the first match against a Gauteng Invitational XI in Soweto, where Lees narrowly missed out on a hundred, and Lions’ captain Trott gate-crashed the debate with an unbeaten 211 in the first unofficial Test in Paarl to follow an undefeated 79 against Gauteng.
As speculation mounts as to where England might potentially accommodate Trott, or whether the Warwickshire man is ready to return to the relentless spotlight of Test cricket after his stress-related problems, Lyth is pressing his own weighty claims.
The 27-year-old, who was leading run-scorer in the County Championship First Division last summer with 1,489 at 67.68, believes he has continued from where he left off in 2014 when he helped Yorkshire to the title, apparently jumping the Test queue after Robson failed to provide convincing evidence of his suitability.
Lyth suffered a rare failure in the first unofficial Test, falling for seven as England scored 624-8 declared in reply to South Africa A’s 504-8 declared in a game that petered out like a passing shower, but he sounded bullish ahead of the game in Bloemfontein.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday, the Whitby-born man said he was ready to answer the Test match call should England come knocking.
“I’m extremely confident that I’d do a very, very good job if I do get selected,” said Lyth, who made his 100th first-class appearance in the game at Paarl.
“I feel I’m hitting the ball as well as I did in the summer, and, hopefully, I can now get a good score in the last Test match here.
“But Sam’s hitting the ball well and Alex is hitting the ball well, so all three of us have got a very good chance, and Trotty batted fantastically well in Paarl and his powers of concentration in hot conditions were very good.
“Whether he would open the batting (in Test cricket), I don’t know. Obviously that’s up to the selectors and Alastair Cook, and everybody will have their ideas.
“But, if I can keep scoring runs, hopefully, it will be me.
“I’ve also got the one-dayers here as well coming up to hopefully get some runs.
“You never know what the selectors are thinking, and all I can do is just look after myself and do the best I can.
“Hopefully, that’s enough.”
If anyone doubted the temperament of Lyth and his fellow contenders for the opener’s spot, those concerns were surely allayed by the way all started the tour impressively amid the pressure of a limited time-window to sway the selectors.
Lyth scored 106 against Gauteng before he was retired out, Robson hit 109 before he was retired out, Lees made 85 and Trott – after a first innings failure – responded in a manner to gladden all those whose hearts have gone out to him since he returned from last winter’s Ashes tour.
“I played very well in that first game,” reflected Lyth, who shared an opening stand of 176 with Robson and provided further evidence of his growing maturity by allowing the Middlesex man to dominate their alliance rather than strive to keep up with him to potentially fatal effect.
“I had to be very patient, which I was all last season, and it was very nice to get the tour off to a good start with three figures.
“Sam played very well opening up with me and then Alex came in and played very well too.
“I was very disappointed not to get some time in the middle last week at Paarl on a very, very good pitch, but, on the whole, I’m very happy with how things are going.”
Lyth and Lees are among six Yorkshire players in the squad along with batsman/wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, pace bowlers Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks and leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
All have contributed as they seek to press their own claims for a Test spot, with Bairstow, Plunkett, Brooks and Rashid all striking half-centuries in the first unofficial Test and Plunkett returning eye-catching first innings figures of 4-91 from 26 overs out of the total of 500-plus.
“Liam bowled fantastic,” said Lyth. “To bowl that many overs in that heat and get four wickets on that flat pitch was an extremely good effort.
“Jonny has been batting really well, I’m sure there’s a five-wicket haul around the corner for ‘Rash’, and Jack is doing well, too.
“It’s fantastic for the club that we’re out here and all doing well, and, hopefully, we can keep that going.”
After this week’s game, the Lions play five unofficial one-day internationals against South Africa A, starting at Bloemfontein tomorrow week.