In my 2011 XI post I remarked upon the fact that there were a dearth of good openers last year. Not only did no full time occupant of the position came close to matching the record of Alastair Cook, but none of them even averaged over fifty. I put it down at first to a statistical anomaly, but watching India ‘bat’ at the SCG I realised that many teams no longer have traditional openers in the mould of Strauss and Cook. Most teams now have at least one opener who tries to get his team off to an ODI-style flier. Sehwag for India is the most notable, but New Zealand have McCullum, Sri Lanka have Dilshan, Bangladesh have Iqbal, Pakistan have Hafeez, South Africa have Smith and Australia have Warner (now) and Watson (prior to his injury). The only team besides England who do not follow this trend are the West Indies, and in their case it is only because of the ongoing feud between the WICB and Chris Gayle.
I think this is central to the spate of collapses and low scores we have seen in Test matches this year. Having an ‘explosive’ batsman at the top of the order is not necessary at Test level and more and more it appears to be a hindrance. New ball bowlers have started to appreciably swing the ball again and especially last year we saw an increase in the number of wickets that helped the bowlers early on. The batsmen trying to hit out and score 100 before lunch are having their technique exposed by the moving ball and are departing early on in the innings. This is borne out by the statistics; through the noughties the average opening partnership was just a shade over 40. In 2011 it was 31.30. Having the number three come in to face a still new ball is obviously far less than ideal, and this is how top order collapses start. We’ve seen it several times this year, and whilst it isn’t all down to the failures of opening batsmen I think that is one of the main culprits. The job of an opening batsmen is to accumulate runs whilst playing the shine off the ball and wearing down the opposition’s best bowlers, not to propel the team to 150-1 at lunch. The teams like England that remember this fact are the ones that will be successful.