Analysing The Best Test Match Openers
Test match opening batsmen are absolutely vital to any team. Just ask Alastair Cook how he felt having to constantly change opening partners post Andrew Strauss. They have the toughest job in the world. Openers have to face the new ball against fresh bowlers. The best test match openers are able to overcome this challenge more often than not.
Currently, Dean Elgar and Tom Latham are perhaps the two best openers across all conditions. They have scored centuries in spinning conditions, swinging/seaming conditions and on pitches where there is pace and bounce.
But, who are the best test match openers of all-time, post 2000?
5. Justin Langer
An all-round solid opening batsman.
Justin Langer formed one half of the best opening partnership in the 2000’s. He and Matthew Hayden dominated opening bowlers on numerous occasions. Justin Langer was a very well-rounded batsman. He didn’t dominate against one type of bowling, but could prosper against any on his day.
Langer averaged 55 in England and 48 in New Zealand against seam and swing movement. He played the ball late and right under his eyes and often tried to negate the movement. At home against pace and bounce, he was equally effective. Justin Langer averaged nearly 49 in Australia as well.
He scored a superb 250 against England in the 2002 Boxing Day test match – the score still remains his highest till date. However, he has scored two other test match centuries at home.
He was adept against spin, though not quite highly skilled. Justin Langer averaged 47 in Pakistan. He also averaged 30 in India and 32 in Sri Lanka.
Justin Langer sits fifth on our list of best test match openers.
4. Virender Sehwag
The spin destroyer.
Virender Sehwag is often regarded as one of the best players of spin in test match cricket. He scored 13 centuries in India, 2 in Pakistan and 3 in Sri Lanka. Sehwag would score massive volumes of runs once he was in.
He averages of 54 in India, 92 in Pakistan and 69 in Sri Lanka. He has scored two test double centuries. His first double-century came against Pakistan at Multan in 2004. Sehwag’s second double century came against South Africa in Chennai in 2008.
Critics questioned Virender Sehwag’s ability to play against pace and bounce, but he answered his doubters in great style. He scored a superb 195 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the Boxing Day test match in 2003 against Australia. In fact, Sehwag averages nearly 47 with the bat in Australia.
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Sehwag would be higher on the list, but for his struggles against seam and swing movement. He averages below 30 in England, South Africa and New Zealand. However, he has still scored test centuries in both South Africa and England.
Virender Sehwag sits fourth on our list of best test match openers.
3. Matthew Hayden – The most destructive among best test match openers
The big bully.
Matthew Hayden is regarded as one of the best test match openers in the last two decades. He formed a lethal partnership with Justin Langer at the top of the order for Australian Cricket in the early and mid 2000’s.
He was the aggressor, while Justin Langer would often accumulate runs at the other end. They were an awesome opening partnership because they complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Matthew Hayden was an excellent player of spin, due to his long reach and sizeable power. He averaged over 50 in India, 40 in Sri Lanka and 104 in the UAE. He was also a superb player of pace and bounce. Hayden plundered 21 test centuries in Australia and two in both South Africa and the West Indies.
Also, Read – Picking Australia’s All-Time ODI XI
His record score of 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003 at Perth, remains the highest test match score by an Australian. It stood as the world record for just under a year – until Brian Lara overtook it again with 400.
Matthew Hayden sits third on our list of best test match openers.
2. Alastair Cook
The prodigal son.
Alastair Cook has scored the most test match runs out of any opening batsmen in the history of the game. Cook has scored over 12,000 test match runs and 33 centuries. He has scored a century in every single country that he has played in.
Cook was especially a superb player of spin. He would read the length beautifully and get either right forward or right back to the ball. Being a tall and strong man also helped him with his reach and power.
Alastair Cook averages 51 in India, 48 in Sri Lanka and 55 in the UAE. He captained England to a series victory in India in 2012/13 and drew a test series in Sri Lanka in 2012.
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His only bad average was in New Zealand, where Cook averaged a mere 27. However, the transtasman adventure was not always a worry for him. In fact, he plundered a massive 766 runs in Australia in 2010/11. This helped England win their first Ashes series down under since 1986/87.
Cook averages nearly 49 with the bat in Australia, having scored 5 centuries. This includes two double-centuries at Brisbane and Melbourne respectively. At home Cook was also a superb player. He played the ball late and under his eyes. These are two keys against the moving ball. Cook averaged 44 at home and his overall average of 45 is also very strong.
Alastair Cook sits second on our list of best test match openers.
1. Graeme Smith – #1 Among Best Test Match Openers
A commanding presence.
Graeme Smith is undoubtedly the best test match opener post the 2000s. He scored test match centuries in every country, apart from Sri Lanka and India. Despite being handed the captaincy at the tender age of 22, Smith revelled in the face of adversity. His batting and leadership took South African Cricket to new heights.
They did not lose a test series between 2006-15 away from home and only lost at home to Australia. One of the greatest test match sides ever and Smith led from the front with his batting. Almost immediately after being handed the captaincy, Smith slammed back-to-back double tons in England at Edgbaston and Lords.
Graeme Smith was very good against the moving ball and against pace and bounce. This is because he had a solid technique. He was also adept at playing spin, although not quite a master of it.
Smith averaged almost 40 batting in Australia, 68 in England and 71 in the UAE. His lowest average out of any country was 36 – in India. These are remarkable numbers for an opening batsman.
Overall, Graeme Smith has scored 9265 test match runs, at an average of just over 48. His strike rate of just below 60 is also very strong for any opening batsman. Undoubtedly, the finest of his era.
Graeme Smith is number one on our list of best test match openers.
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