Reflecting on the recent series between England and India, I thought I would write about a concerning trend that continues to grow in Test cricket. The poor performances of Test openers. The opening batsman from both sides only produced 2 centuries and 1 fifty in the 5 match series All of these scores were produced in the ‘dead rubber’ fifth Test with England already wrapping up a series win.
The majority of Test matches over the past few years have seen teams 2 or 3 wickets down for a low score with the openers failing to register a fifty. Have we seen the last of the determined, phlegmatic, focussed and single minded openers with the retirement of Alastair Cook?
An appealing aspect to Test cricket over the years has been the gladitorial battle between the opening batsman and bowlers. Opening batsmen have patiently, methodically and with great skill provided a solid platform for their team’s with healthy individual scores and stands in the face of challenging bowling. The intrigue of Test cricket diminishes if there is no contest between bat and ball at this level.
Currently, all of the Test teams cannot find a dependable opening batting partnership. Australia are looking at selecting the inconsistent Matt Renshaw or the ODI specialists of Travis Head and Aaron Finch for the forthcoming 2 Test series against Pakistan in the UAE. Sri Lanka have tried a number of batsmen to partner Dimuth Karunaratne, who himself has an average record in the Test arena. New Zealand, India and England are all struggling to find a productive opening pairing with the latter having a new partnership at the top of the order following the retirement of Alastair Cook. Pakistan and South Africa rely on the compact techniques of Azhar Ali and Dean Elgar at the top of the batting order however they have had a number of partners throughout their time at Test level.
The financial lure and prominence of T20 and ODI cricket has meant that batsmen are developing aggressive and attacking batting styles atuned for this level sacrificing the development of sound techniques required for Test cricket. Will Test Cricket see prominent openers like Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Smith and Len Hutton in the game again? I fear not…