April 16, 2012

Best Opening Batsmen of All Time

Here we go! My very first one. Opening batsmen are first in the line of fire. Great openers require a fantastic temperament, and an excellent technique, with the exception, perhaps, of Virender Sehwag.

Through the ages, the great openers have often come in pairs, be it Hobbs-Sutcliffe, Lawry-Simpson, Greenidge-Haynes or Hayden-Langer. To assess an opening batsman's might, I look at their personal record, the strength of the opposition, how much better they were than their peers, the significance of their contributions, and most importantly, how awesome they were as batsmen.

Pitch Perfect

Well then, here she goes:

10. Arthur Robert Morris (Australia)

With an average of 46.48, Morris scored 3533 runs in 46 Matches with 12 centuries. He was a member of the great 'Invincibles' side of 1948. His Ashes record is excellent, so is his opening record with Sid Barnes. He had a very elegant and positive game, though he did suffer a decline after Bradman and Barnes left the squad.

9. Matthew Lawrence Hayden (Australia)

With an average of 50.73, Hayden scored 8625 runs in 103 matches, with 30 centuries. His partnership with Justin Langer produced 5655 runs @ 51.88, including 14 century partnerships. His century-to-innings conversion ratio is one of the best of all time, way ahead of his contemporaries.

Forte: Power, Consistency, Great Mental Strength, Dominating.

8. Virender Sehwag (India)

Scoring 8178 runs at an average of 50.79, and a strike rate of 81.99! in 96 matches with 22 hundreds (not to mention some triple hundreds), Virender Sehwag did to opening in tests what Adam Gilchrist did to wicket-keeping.

An excellent hand-eye co-ordination, and a penchant for scoring boundaries has led him to dominate bowling attacks all around the world, including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. His technique may be suspect, but he makes up for it with excellent temperament and ambition. With Gautam Gambhir, he has perhaps the mightiest opening pairing India has ever had.

7. Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge (West Indies)

Greenidge scored 7558 runs in 108 matches at an average of 44.72, with 19 hundreds. His partnership in the 1980s with Desmond Haynes produced 6482 runs (a world record) @ 47.31 with 16 century partnerships. In an era when pace bowling was at its peak, Greenidge's aggressive style and excellent stroke-play made him a force to be reckoned with. 

6. Victor Thomas Trumper (Australia)

With an average of 39.04, Trumper scored 3163 runs in 48 matches, with 8 centuries. Don't let the low average fool you, he was way ahead of his contemporaries. Confused? Two words - Uncovered Pitches. Playing at the turn of the century, he was the master of the uncovered pitches and unorthodox batting, with a  beautiful technique to boot. The first real great Aussie opener. He is a legend remembered with great fondness down under, and is still considered by some as being the next to Don himself.

5. Herbert Sutcliffe (England)

With an average of 60.73, Sutcliffe scored 4555 Runs in 54 Matches, with 16 centuries. He was one half of the greatest opening pair ever with Jack Hobbs. They produced 3249 runs together @ 87.81 (wow!) with 15 century partnerships.

Sutcliffe himself was a very fine batsman, with an immense reservoir of concentration and determination. He is remembered as one of the game's finest "bad wicket batsmen". According to Fred Trueman, "he was a terrible man to get out".

4. Barry Anderson Richards (South Africa)

Ah! Barry Richards. One of my all time favorites. Not just for the legend of the unfulfilled genius, but for his attitude towards batting. With a wonderfully positive attitude, he played just four tests against Australia in the summer of 1970, scoring 508 runs at an average of 72.57, making 2 centuries and 2 half centuries. His other international exploits were in Kerry Packer's World Series cricket, where he scored 554 runs @ 79.14 in 5 'supertests'. The fact that a county player was included in the World XI is, in itself, a great feat.

His county record is fantastic too. Go here for more details. The stories about how he would read the bowlers (an instance where he demystified Johnny Gleesen's spin in one over for all his teammates is famed), and the way he approached batting are the real gems which tell the true story. Barry scored 9 first class centuries before lunch. In that sense, he was like Sehwag with a great technique! He even managed to outscore the great Viv Richards in the World Series when they were batting together. Bradman said he was as good as Hobbs and Hutton. Never again has there been an opener with such a perfect technique who scored at such a brisk pace, and was so positive in his outlook for the game.

3. Sunil Manohar 'Sunny' Gavaskar (India)

You have to acknowledge the greatness of this diminutive Indian opener who had a beautiful, unbreachable technique. Compact, Precise, Flawless. And when he did hit them, they were beautiful to watch. The only complaint you might have of him is that he didn't hit enough of them. That said, his hooking and pulling was of the highest caliber and was on proper display when he was feeling a slight animosity towards the bowler. He played with equal felicity off both front and back feet, had excellent judgement of length and line, and was beautifully balanced. He had virtually every stroke in the book but traded flair for the solidity his side needed more.

Sunil Gavaskar is indisputably the greatest international opener since 1970. As has been said by many, his mastery over the brilliant pacemen of the Caribbean was quite an achievement, although that feat is slightly exaggerated as it is not widely known that his actual performance against the full might of the 'Pace Quartet' was much less impressive than his overall record against the Windies. The way he played the fantastic pacemen of his era like Imran, Hadlee, Lillee, Thompson, Botham and Willis was the epitome of fine batsmanship.  He averaged 65.40 against the Windies, making some great match winning hundreds and double hundreds. He was the first man to reach 10000 test runs and held the record for most centuries with 34, until a certain Sachin Tendulkar came along. Overall his average was 51.12 and he formed a great opening salvo with Chetan Chauhan having 10 century partnerships in a record of 3010 runs @ 53.75.

You had to understand India to truly understand why Gavaskar played the way he played. He didn't have the luxury of a good middle order. It was him or nothing. How could a man be expected to take chances with his wicket in flashy stroke-play in such circumstances? If you need some proof of how prolific he could be, check out the 94-ball hundred he scored against Marshall and Co in 1983. Had he played for a better side, he might have been more prolific. This, after his record is still one of the best ever.

2. Leonard 'Len' Hutton (England)

The King of Defence

A fantastic record of 6971 runs at an astounding average of 56.67 in 79 matches places Len Hutton here at the top of the list. He scored 19 centuries in a stellar career as a superstar opener. His greatest opening pairing was with Cyril Washbrook with whom he produced 2880 runsa @ 60. To add to all this, as a captain, he led England through a difficult time. He broke Hammond's world record by scoring 364 runs in an innings until Garfield Sobers took over with 365.

Had the War not interrupted his career, he was destined to go to even greater heights. As it is, he finished as England's second best ever. His golden career coincided with England having a modest batting lineup and he played a somewhat similar role to Sunil Gavaskar as he became slightly defensive in his approach to preserve his wicket, although he was capable of a some fine hitting, as he showed time and time again. Many consider him to have had the best defensive technique in the game. He was certainly a star, and is right up there with Hobbs and Hammond as England's best ever.

1. John Berry 'Jack' Hobbs (England) 

Hobbs and Sutcliffe - The Immortal Openers

In short, Hobbs made 61237 first class runs with 199 centuries. He was one half of two of the greatest opening salvos in test cricket history: one with Wilfred Rhodes - 2146 runs made @ 61.31, and one with Herbert Sutcliffe - 3249 runs made @ 87.81. Hobbs scored 5410 test runs at an average of 56.94 with 15 hundreds. 

A brilliant, spontaneous and original player. He broke many social boundaries, becoming the first professional batsman who batted like an amateur (meaning he would play in an unorthodox manner). A man who taught his peers as much as he excelled on the pitch. His partner Sutcliffe went as far as to give him a share of praise for his own runs. Hobbs scored more than 100 of his 199 centuries  after his 40th birthday. He was still good enough to pass 1000 runs in 1933, aged 51, at an average of 61.38!!

The Master. The legend. The Greatest Englishman to ever play the game. Jack Hobbs. Who else to open but him?


  1. Nice list. The odd one out is Sehwag. He was nothing more than a mediocre batsman who could score on his day. Even during his playing days there were better openers than sehwag.

  2. What about Stewie Dempster?