Rory Burns counts his blessings amid England fragility at the crease

Australia players taunt the England left-hander that he is just lucky but he simply knows how to exploit every opportunity

England’s Rory Burns avoids a short ball while weathering the Australia bowling attack
England’s Rory Burns avoids a short ball while weathering the Australia bowling attack at Lord’s. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The way Gary Player tells it, it goes like this. He was practising his bunker game somewhere in Texas when “this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch”. Player hit his next shot into the hole and the stranger said to him, “You got 50 bucks if you get the next one in.” Player did, so the Texan said he double it if he made three in a row. “Boy,” he told Player as he peeled a hundred off his roll of bills a second later. “I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.”

So Player fired back at him, “It’s funny, the harder I practise, the luckier I get.” And that, Player says, “is where the quote originated”.

Rory Burns, eight Tests into his career, has already won himself a reputation as a lucky player, as the Australia players keep telling him. At Edgbaston Tim Paine chose not to review a plumb lbw when Burns was on 21 and he went on to make a century. At Lord’s he was dropped twice off Peter Siddle’s bowling and went on to make 50.

There was one chance on 16, when he steered a short ball straight to Usman Khawaja at gully, and another on 47, when he sliced a fat edge through low to Paine’s left. The point is, as Player says, that luck does not much matter unless you are good enough to do something with it and Burns has, now, in two of his last three innings.

Burns finished up with 53, top score in another underwhelming England innings, and he faced 127 balls, which was almost as many as the rest of England’s top six managed between them. It was not a perfect innings or a pretty one but a gritty one, and that was just what England needed from him in the circumstance.

Even Burns’s nearest and dearest surely would not say he was a handsome batsman. His stance makes him look as if he spent the previous night sleeping in the front seat of a car. But it works for him, and he weathered two superb spells, one from Josh Hazlewood at the Nursery End and another from Pat Cummins coming in from the Pavilion.

Hazlewood opened with six pitilessly accurate overs, five runs, three maidens, two wickets. Cummins followed up, after lunch, with a brutal spell of short, nasty fast bowling. Burns blocked and prodded his way through one, shuffled and swayed his way through the other, although Cummins pinned him twice, once on the chest, then again on the arm. In between Burns picked off the odd loose deliveries Siddle served him and played a couple of self-assured sweeps away for four through midwicket off Nathan Lyon.

In many ways it was modest stuff. There were no swaggering pulls or swingeing drives, just nudges, nurdles and clumps but it gave some badly needed ballast to this England team, whose batting sometimes seems so flighty, so frail, that it might be blown over by the lightest gust of fast bowling.

There is an old story about the time Keith Miller led 12 men on to the field when he was captaining New South Wales. “One of you fuck off,” Miller is supposed to have said when he realised his mistake, “and the rest of you scatter.” It sometimes feels as if this England team put a similar amount of planning into their batting strategy.

They seems to work on the principle that, if they just pack enough talented stroke-makers into the team, one of them is bound to do the trick. It is the superhero theory of Test match batting. They are always waiting for someone to come to the rescue. That attitude works for them in the one-day game, where they are always willing to spend wickets for runs, but it is no way to play Test cricket, because it usually ends up with everyone at sixes and sevens. Which fits, because sixes and sevens is exactly what they are. They have at least four players in this team who would all be best off batting in one of those two positions. Five, if you include Jason Roy, who bats lower down in the county championship for Surrey.

Surrey’s director of cricket, Alec Stewart, keeps saying Roy ought be in the Test team too, but there is not much room left down there. In Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, England have four fine lower middle-order batsmen already. Buttler, who came in at five, is trying his best to do an impression of a man who knows how to play defensively but it is not too convincing. His average goes up by eight runs when he moves down from No 5 to No 6. So does Stokes’, while Bairstow’s increases by 12.

Burns, then, is a tortoise among hares. In the end it took an astonishing bit of fielding to dismiss him. Cummins banged in another short ball and Burns pushed it away to short-leg, where the ball actually bounced off Cameron Bancroft’s palm as he lunged down for it. He managed to reach out his hand and catch the rebound as he fell to the ground. It was a miraculous catch. It might even have been called an unlucky way to get out.