Dom Sibley ‘mentally strong’ against South Africa, says Michael Atherton

Dom Sibley deserves praise for keeping faith with his quirky batting technique despite a lean run at the start of his Test career, according to Sky Sports pundit Michael Atherton.

The England opener, who had mustered just 105 runs from his first six innings at international level, shone on the third day of the second Test at Cape Town with an unbeaten 85 as the tourists built a commanding 264-run lead against South Africa.

Sibley’s batting style had been questioned by some, with an open-chested stance and a perceived over-reliance on the leg side – but former England captain Atherton was impressed by the 24-year-old’s mindset.

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“His technique or idiosyncratic method is always going to invite questions and raise eyebrows,” said Atherton. “With a run of low scores, people will always talk about that.

“So the key thing for him is that he’s got to be mentally strong to stick with his method if he feels it works at this level – and I thought today there were encouraging signs.

“One was the number of runs he got through the offside. You don’t have to drive the ball elegantly like David Gower, but you have to have an offside game of some description, because Test bowlers are not going to bowl straight.

“Whether it’s an ugly cut, a punch or whatever it is, you’ve got to have some way of scoring runs on that side and I think about 50 per cent of his runs came there.”

Sibley batted through the majority of the day after England had wrapped up the home side’s first innings early on for 223, securing a precious advantage of 46.

Opening partner Zak Crawley struck a breezy 25 from 35 balls before he was caught behind driving at Kagiso Rabada and Sibley went on to share significant partnerships with Joe Denly (31) and Joe Root (61).

Atherton felt that Crawley – who was called up for his second Test cap after Rory Burns injured his ankle playing football – will have learned a great deal from that knock.

He said: “There are two aspects to batting and technique is one, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. The other aspect is what you’d call game management and I thought it was a lesson for Zak Crawley.

“He played a nice tempo, some nice shots and he nearly got through Rabada’s opening spell – he had two balls left of his sixth over.

“In that position I’d have been thinking ‘just get through these two balls and you’ve seen the back of Rabada’, but he played a loose shot and Rabada had another over.

“So there’s both the technical side of it and game management and, although it wasn’t a long innings, he’d probably have learned a fair bit about Test cricket there.”

Despite losing both Root and nightwatchman Dom Bess in the closing stages, England avoided the kind of batting collapse that has blighted their recent Test performances and reached 218-4 at stumps.

They will go into the fourth day as favourites to win the match and level the series at 1-1, with Atherton adding: “It was just a day of basic competence from England and that was good to see.

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