Mark Stoneman’s debut against West Indies offers chance of Ashes place
Mark Stoneman feels his Test debut against West Indies under lights this Thursday is justification for his winter move from Durham to Surrey as he prepares to become the latest batsman to try to crack the puzzle that is being Alastair Cook’s opening partner.
At 30 years of age Stoneman will become the oldest specialist batsman to be handed a first England cap this century, and the hope from the selectors now is that this seasoned left-hander’s additional experience comes off in the three-match Investec series and ends the seemingly perpetual search to fill the gap left by the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
Stoneman will be Cook’s 15th partner since his debut, 12th since Strauss retired and, though Stoneman missed out on a top-order spot twice this summer when first Gary Ballance and then Tom Westley got the nod at No3, he always retained the hope that his surge in county runs since trading the north-east for south London would eventually force a way in.
Stoneman had already signed for Surrey before Durham’s financially enforced relegation last October, – the die was probably cast when Michael di Venuto, his former team-mate and long-time idol, became head coach at the Oval in early 2016 – but cricketers have not needed to leave the Riverside to get international recognition in recent times given the opener he has replaced, Keaton Jennings, was the club’s 10th academy player to be capped.
Nevertheless the fresh surroundings, a reunion with Di Venuto and less off-field noise at a more settled club appear to have been beneficial for someone described as an intense character by his friends. He has 1,033 first-class runs at an average of 57 this county summer, a leap from a career average of 34, albeit having passed four figures in the previous four seasons.
“I’d like to thank all the staff and team-mates at Durham for helping me to get here. The last four years at the club I was playing nicely and I can’t thank them enough,” said Stoneman, who has the chance to seal an Ashes berth with a strong showing against West Indies.
“The move to Surrey was to continue that progression, so maybe this [call-up] does justify that. I’m in a good position. I know myself quite well now as a cricketer and a person and hopefully I can do myself justice. Partnering Cook will be amazing. I’ve spent a lot of years watching him on the telly and have massive respect for what he has done.”