Chris Waters: The Ashes – Resilient Rory Burns does the ugly side of the game to keep England’s hopes alive

RATHER LIKE background music in a restaurant or the sound of birdsong, you don’t really notice Rory Burns.

Rory Burns avoids a short ball from Mitchell Starc at Old Trafford. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

You know that he is there, a bit like the background music or the birdsong, but there is nothing particularly memorable about one of his innings, apart from his quirky trigger movements as the bowler runs in.

Burns, a left-hander, has a dominant left eye, so he jerks his head towards the leg-side to ensure that he can better line up each ball.

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Other than that, he has a compact game devoid of frills or flourish, the odd pleasant cover drive and nudge off the hips, certainly nothing that would send a child rushing home stoked with the ambition to become the next Rory Burns.

England's Rory Burns (left) celebrates reaching 50 at Old Trafford, with captain Joe Root alongside, right. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

But the quasi-ugliness of Burns is also the beauty of Burns, or at least it was on day three of the fourth Ashes Test.

On a day that demanded discipline, doggedness and determination (and that’s without leaving the letter ‘D’), Burns displayed all of those qualities to help England to 200-5 in reply to Australia’s potentially urn-retaining 497-8 declared.

Lose at Old Trafford and the Ashes are gone, but Burns’s 81, allied to Joe Root’s 71, at least gave some hope that England may yet be alive going into the final Test on Burns’s home ground of the Oval, although Australia have a great opportunity now to put that dream to bed.

The only pity was that Burns did not make a century, his fine innings ending when Josh Hazlewood had him caught at second slip to break a third-wicket stand of 141 with Root in 53 overs.

England's Rory Burns avoids another short ball against Australia at Old Trafford. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Burns, 29, is a man ideally suited to the challenge that England faced here, one which called for plenty of character and resilience.

In an era of crash-bang-wallop, of 100-ball codswallop, he is the rarity of a bat-all-day merchant, albeit one who has shown that quality primarily at county as opposed to international level.

As many an old pro would no doubt say, there is a world of difference between batting for Surrey in front of one man and his dog at t’Oval and trying to withstand the blistering speed of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and co with the Ashes at stake.

But Burns not only withstood their pace but grew taller in its heat; he is starting to look more and more like a proper Test batsman.

Heaven knows that England have tried enough openers since the days of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, and there is no doubt that Burns has benefited from a lack of alternatives.

But his scores in this series have been encouraging, with a twin failure at Headingley countered by this innings, a gritty hundred at Edgbaston and a fifty at Lord’s; the Burns’ graph is showing an upward curve.

Not that Burns could ever be said to look as though he’s particularly enjoying himself at the crease; out there in the lonely, unforgiving spotlight, he wears a kind of “phew, thank goodness for that” expression whenever a ball is safely negotiated or disappears for runs.

His face suggests that it is all a bit of an ordeal – which, at times, it has been in this series against the short ball in particular.

But no one could deny Burns’s fight, his courage and his skill levels also. He is the perfect type of player for a difficult situation.

Root, who usually does look as though he’s enjoying himself when batting, is the perfect type of player for most situations.

Although Steve Smith is no longer Australia’s captain, as he was when Root’s England were crushed 4-0 on the last Ashes tour, the Yorkshireman still measures himself batting-wise against his counterpart, a man who becomes more Bradman-esque with each passing day.

After Smith’s 211 earlier in the Test, Root knew that he would have to produce something if not quite similar then at least something not entirely dissimilar to preserve England’s chances of winning the Ashes.

To that effect, his 71 was not the sizeable score for which he had wished, Root trapped lbw by Hazlewood after surviving a thrilling duel earlier against Cummins’s pace.