Batting July 17, 2010

Dashing openers - A priceless tribe

Cricinfo
From S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath, India
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From S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath, India

Roy Fredericks packed enormous angst in his shots
Roy Fredericks packed enormous angst in his shots © Getty Images

Indians of our generation grew up listening to tales of Mushtaq Ali, the cavalier opening batsman of the 1930s and 40s. Forty years later, when Kris Srikkanth made it to the Indian team, Mushtaq was remembered. When Virender Sehwag began blazing away, Mushtaq was still being remembered. The allure of the dasher as a Test match opener is simply eternal.

Should not the Test opener play sensibly, see off the new ball, take the spite out of the wicket, tire the fast bowlers, and set up a platform for the batsmen to follow? Not for the dashing opener! Seventy for no loss at lunch may be alright for normal openers but for the dasher, it is better to be 123 for 1 at lunch! He stirs the senses like nobody else can. And that alone is reason enough to celebrate this priceless gift to cricket.

The vision is intoxicating; of a knight on a steed, rapier in hand, cutting a swathe for the batsmen to follow. The pitch might be green, the ball swinging prodigiously or bouncing sharply. But these blithe spirits - they see the ball, their eyes light up and they go for it. Audacity, instinct, hand-eye coordination certainly but most important, technique is their servant and not the other way round. Because they bring off outrageous shots, people tend to think they have a loose technique. Far from it. Sehwag brings down his bat as straight as any “technically sound batsman”. The dasher often fails because he chooses to attack a ball that should not have been so belligerently addressed. Their very vulnerability adds to their irresistible charm.

Here is our list of the glory buccaneers among Test openers. Our list begins with Victor Trumper, the first and most endearing of these wonderful batsmen and ends with Sehwag, the greatest torchbearer of the tribe. The rest is in random order. Figures against the names pertain only to those Tests they played as opening batsmen.

1. Victor Trumper: 1901-12; 32 tests; 1650 runs; average: 33

This is written in sheer yearning for Trumper, who played his cricket 100 years ago. Our school boy impressions are from the stories of Trumper by Cardus, Fingleton and Robinson. The pictures that accompanied the prose always showed Trumper jumping out of his crease, and finishing a straight hit. Trumper was one in a million. Take your pick from these glorious run-a-minute centuries: Against England: in Manchester, 1902, 104 runs in just 115 minutes; Sydney in 1908, 166 runs in 241 minutes; Against South Africa: Melbourne in 1910, 159 runs off 158 balls and then 214 off 247 balls in Adelaide in the same series. Trumper died tragically young at 38.

2. Kris Srikkanth: 1981- 92; 43 Tests, 2062 runs, average 29.88

In January 1986, on the first morning of the Sydney Test, the authors left home around 7am for a nets session in preparation for a city tournament. Srikkanth was 27 not out when we set off. By 7.30am when we reached the ground, Srikkanth was 10 runs away from his century. The man had gone berserk. His fans will feel cheated if we do not mention how he belted Imran Khan and company out of Chepauk in January 1987, hitting 123 runs of just 147 balls. He had many bumbling dismissals but his square drive on a bent knee off Andy Roberts was the shot of the 1983 World Cup.

3. Farokh Engineer: 1965-1975; 26 Tests; 1577 runs; average 32.85.

For thousands of cricket-crazy spectators in Chennai, on the first morning of the Test match against West Indies in January 1967, it was excruciating to watch Dilip Sardesai sedately play out all six balls of the last over before lunch. It prevented Engineer from recording a century before the break. Engineer had already hit 97 runs that morning against Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs, an innings that even now gives goose-bumps. He was the “Suicide pilot” opener for Lancashire in their Gillette cup matches.

4. Budhi Kunderan: 1960-67; 12 Tests; 782 runs; average: 41.15

In his second test, some mastermind promoted him to open for India against Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff in Chennai. The first over he faced went for 14 runs - four hits and two misses. Kunderan continued in the same vein to score 71. Called in to replace the injured Engineer for the 1964 Test match in Chennai against England, he blasted nearly 200 runs on the opening day. There was minimum movement of feet, amazing hand-eye coordination and a flashing blade.

5. Colin Milburn: 1966-69; 7 Tests; 500 runs; average: 41.66

There was a rare cheerfulness to English batting during Milburn’s days, a combination of his bulk and attacking style. Given his build, Milburn sensibly preferred boundaries to running his singles. England may have lost the Old Trafford Test to West Indies in 1966, but Milburn, with a belligerent 94, made sure the ship went down with guns blazing. His stop-start Test career ended when he lost an eye in a car crash.

6. Roy Fredericks: 1968 – 77; 58 Tests, 4329 runs, average: 42.86

An abiding memory of the winter break in December 1975 was listening to the peerless Mcgilvray over radio bring alive Fredericks’ incandescent innings in Perth against Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Gary Gilmour and Max Walker. A small-made man, Fredericks packed enormous angst in his shots. His 169 runs of just 144 balls with 27 fours was sheer violence.

7. Shahid Afridi: 1998-2005; 15 Tests; 892 runs; average: 37.16.

In at least three Tests against India in India, Afridi opened the Pakistan innings at a blistering pace. Two (Chennai 1999 and Bangalore 2005) of those set up the platform for Pakistan wins. Although he stopped opening for Pakistan and became even more erratic down the order, Afridi is clearly the most bludgeoning batsman to ever open for Pakistan. The fact that his strike rate as a Test opener is over 86 runs per 100 balls says it all.

8. Keith Stackpole: 1969-74; 33 Tests, 2390 runs; average: 40.5

Stackpole became an opening batsman for Australia only after a few years in the middle order. But once he became the dour Bill Lawry’s opening partner he opened up great options for Australia. An attacking captain like Ian Chappell relished a belligerent opener who took the attack to opposing bowlers. On his only tour to India in 1969, he carved a century at the Brabourne Stadium but was rather quiet by his standards in the other matches.

9. Charlie Barnett: 1934-38; 12 Tests; 793 runs. average: 39.65

A prolific county player, Barnett is best remembered for his knock of 126 in the Nottingham Test against Australia when he narrowly missed a century before lunch. Barnett was a punishing batsman feared for his ferocious cuts and scorching drives played on the up. In many a county game, he hit the first ball he faced for six.

10. Virender Sehwag: 71 Tests; 6312 runs; average: 54.88

There has never been an opener like him and it is difficult to think there will be another in a lifetime. The stats are astounding: 19 centuries, of which two are triple centuries, four are double centuries and most are big centuries. His average of 54.88 is only below illustrious, classical openers like Jack Hobbs, Bert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton and above other all time greats. Add to that the number of wins he has set up through his explosive opening. To achieve such amazingly high yields at a strike rate of 80.87 puts him at a peak that nobody has scaled. His recent centuries have only got faster! Has anybody thrilled our senses like him?

And there are still Sanath Jayasuriya, Chris Gayle, Michael Slater, Mushtaq Ali, Matthew Hayden and many others to write about. Young Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh is starting to put together rapid-fire centuries that may see him join this pantheon. But we must halt somewhere. Maybe another time and another place we will do justice to the other trailblazers.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anonymous on October 13, 2010, 7:03 GMT

    graeme smith should be mentioned here. he has an average over 50 as an opener.

  • AN on August 21, 2010, 19:25 GMT

    Anwar was more of a traditional opener in Tests and therefore will not meet the criteria for this write up. If I were to write an article to list stylish openers then Anwar would be right up there. Jayasurya again, would be a dasher in the ODI format. Matt Hayden was up there but his strike rate is 60 odd if memory serves me right. But he can be included here as the authors say themselves. Maybe a write up 2.0 could do that. All said and done, Sehwag's records are going to be tough to beat, most of us may be dead and gone before the next one arrives. 4000 of his 7000 odd runs in 4s plus 79 sixes! As Morne Morkel said after the run a ball triple.."ridiculous".

  • CH N K Dhaveji on July 22, 2010, 12:15 GMT

    One thing that all these dashers brought was crowds to the grounds early in the morning and huge TPRs for television now. While these guys were at the crease there was huge excitement and cheer all around. And, don't forget, most were very well mannered for all their batting savagery.

  • Pridhvi on July 21, 2010, 22:36 GMT

    Which other batsman has scored 195 in Australia on the first day of a test match and which other batsman was 228* on the fist day and went on to make a triple hundred..Answer: SEHWAG

  • Amber Gangola on July 21, 2010, 4:42 GMT

    Sahwagh has responded to this article with his yesterday's knock of 85 against Sri Lanka. I however would like to place Hyden and Jayasuriya in the list as many of the listed cricekters are not the ones whom I have seen batting.

  • Ravi Rajagopalan on July 20, 2010, 10:46 GMT

    To all the Pakistani readers offended that the authors did not list Saaed Anwar or Majid Khan: Listen, they have stated THEIR PERSONAL VIEW. Gettit? THEIR PERSONAL VIEW. My personal view is that Ben Godleman who opened for Brondesbury is one of the greatest openers, but thats my view. Chill out guys. Of course Saeed Anwar is one of the best there is. Cheers

  • Rony on July 19, 2010, 16:16 GMT

    Sehwag: Strike Rate - 80+ Average 54+ Everyone else: Strike rate - <60 Average <54.

    No one compares to Sehwag. He dominates everyone. That is all.

  • Syed Adeel on July 19, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Hey Guys, u all said well there must be the name of saeed anwar, chris gale and hayden. They Must be in the list. These 3 players are really great assets not only for their country also for the Cricket as well as in test cricket. these all three players are really dashing and smashing. they really performed well at most of matches played more than 50%. they must be included in the list instead of few names in the list. ALLAH Hafiz

  • ram on July 19, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    without doubt Sehwag is way above the rest if dashing opening is the criteria. Added to that his uncanny ability to reel of big hundreds at lightning speed unheard and unknown at test level consistently makes him the most valuable opener of the generation and may of all time.

  • Rahul on July 19, 2010, 11:10 GMT

    Strike rate of Anwar is 55 in test...he was classy no doubts but not dashing....but I think Jayasuriya should have been there..also Sehwag would top the rankings.

  • Anonymous on October 13, 2010, 7:03 GMT

    graeme smith should be mentioned here. he has an average over 50 as an opener.

  • AN on August 21, 2010, 19:25 GMT

    Anwar was more of a traditional opener in Tests and therefore will not meet the criteria for this write up. If I were to write an article to list stylish openers then Anwar would be right up there. Jayasurya again, would be a dasher in the ODI format. Matt Hayden was up there but his strike rate is 60 odd if memory serves me right. But he can be included here as the authors say themselves. Maybe a write up 2.0 could do that. All said and done, Sehwag's records are going to be tough to beat, most of us may be dead and gone before the next one arrives. 4000 of his 7000 odd runs in 4s plus 79 sixes! As Morne Morkel said after the run a ball triple.."ridiculous".

  • CH N K Dhaveji on July 22, 2010, 12:15 GMT

    One thing that all these dashers brought was crowds to the grounds early in the morning and huge TPRs for television now. While these guys were at the crease there was huge excitement and cheer all around. And, don't forget, most were very well mannered for all their batting savagery.

  • Pridhvi on July 21, 2010, 22:36 GMT

    Which other batsman has scored 195 in Australia on the first day of a test match and which other batsman was 228* on the fist day and went on to make a triple hundred..Answer: SEHWAG

  • Amber Gangola on July 21, 2010, 4:42 GMT

    Sahwagh has responded to this article with his yesterday's knock of 85 against Sri Lanka. I however would like to place Hyden and Jayasuriya in the list as many of the listed cricekters are not the ones whom I have seen batting.

  • Ravi Rajagopalan on July 20, 2010, 10:46 GMT

    To all the Pakistani readers offended that the authors did not list Saaed Anwar or Majid Khan: Listen, they have stated THEIR PERSONAL VIEW. Gettit? THEIR PERSONAL VIEW. My personal view is that Ben Godleman who opened for Brondesbury is one of the greatest openers, but thats my view. Chill out guys. Of course Saeed Anwar is one of the best there is. Cheers

  • Rony on July 19, 2010, 16:16 GMT

    Sehwag: Strike Rate - 80+ Average 54+ Everyone else: Strike rate - <60 Average <54.

    No one compares to Sehwag. He dominates everyone. That is all.

  • Syed Adeel on July 19, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Hey Guys, u all said well there must be the name of saeed anwar, chris gale and hayden. They Must be in the list. These 3 players are really great assets not only for their country also for the Cricket as well as in test cricket. these all three players are really dashing and smashing. they really performed well at most of matches played more than 50%. they must be included in the list instead of few names in the list. ALLAH Hafiz

  • ram on July 19, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    without doubt Sehwag is way above the rest if dashing opening is the criteria. Added to that his uncanny ability to reel of big hundreds at lightning speed unheard and unknown at test level consistently makes him the most valuable opener of the generation and may of all time.

  • Rahul on July 19, 2010, 11:10 GMT

    Strike rate of Anwar is 55 in test...he was classy no doubts but not dashing....but I think Jayasuriya should have been there..also Sehwag would top the rankings.

  • Wahab Jameel on July 19, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    I belive Saeed Anwar and Mathew Hayden more dashing and stylish batsmen then the ones mentioned above. The concept of elegance should be treated differently then being a hard hitter.

  • Sharath Ram on July 19, 2010, 9:01 GMT

    well said rony.. sehwag till date is one of the best openers. He has performed against every country , bowler, etc. home or away, he has been a prodigious opener. In every pitch sehwag has boomed.. What else you need?? So Sehwag is better than everyone in the list.

  • anonymous on July 19, 2010, 8:03 GMT

    And no Majid Khan? What kind of a list this is?

  • Nataraj on July 19, 2010, 7:39 GMT

    Saeed Anwar's SR is 55 odd whihc is nothing compared to Sehwag's. Saeed Anwar was one of the best in ODI but I do not agree that he was one o fthe best in Tests in his era. And the author is trying to cover all the eras so during Srikkanth's era he was the dashing opener.

  • jawad on July 19, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    saeed anwar,ganguly,hayden and gibbs are more clasical players,now a days sehwag,gembiger,gayle are dangrors opners in world and salman butt is impressind day by by,he will be next saeed anwar

  • indresh47 on July 19, 2010, 7:14 GMT

    @Kamran I agree Saeed should be there..atleast ahead of some of the guys in the list. But with Sehwag...his stats are great in every country except New Zealand and SA.

  • Sam on July 19, 2010, 4:27 GMT

    Fredericks was one of the most influential batsmen, though he had a shortened career. His influence can be clearly seen right down to batsmen like Lara who almost completely adopted his technique and style.

  • ratee on July 19, 2010, 3:06 GMT

    Without mentioning Hayden, Gilchrist, Saeed Anwar, Kaith Stackpole, Herschlle Gibbs and Chris Gayle how can you complete this article?

  • Jake on July 19, 2010, 0:38 GMT

    Where on earth is Michael Slater? Probably he was Sehwag before Sehwag!

  • Maqsood Qazi on July 18, 2010, 23:28 GMT

    One more glaring omission is Majid Khan - the last man to score a century before lunch on the first day of a test match.

  • redring on July 18, 2010, 23:02 GMT

    Michael Slater was way in front of most of these blokes with his average of 44

  • Sohel ahmed on July 18, 2010, 20:14 GMT

    And Tamim iqbal is just making his way to become one of the all time great dashing test opener.One can't forget the way he recently made back to back centuries against england.A genuine Royal bengal tiger in the making with all tooth and nails firing at once;a champ among some minnows

  • lokman hakim on July 18, 2010, 19:21 GMT

    This is a fair selection i think.. . . Happy to see name of young Tamim Iqbal among the legends. Tamim is a blistering opener indeed.

  • Rony on July 18, 2010, 15:53 GMT

    What about them? Sehwag is miles above and beyond everyone else. Nakiman, the people you mention have strike rates of what...60 at best? Sehwags strike rate is 80!! Ridiculous. Not to mention his average of 50+ and his ability to make MASSIVE scores. No one compares to how effective Sehwag is.

  • Irfan on July 18, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    Rubbish, how can writer forgot to mention about Saeed Anwar, Mathew Hayden, Jaysuria & Chis Gyle & i am shocked to see that Srikanth is preferred over the above names.

  • Kamran Rehmat on July 18, 2010, 13:11 GMT

    Have you got your blinkers on or what? Where is Saeed Anwer in all of this? Sehwag's a class act alright but let's make a fair call and see how domineering the stats are on featherbeds in the arc covering Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

  • Bill on July 18, 2010, 12:08 GMT

    A Wonderful article. It was so pleasing to see openers from other eras included rather than the normal few from the last 20 years or so. Colin Milburn was a joy to watch. He believed the ball was there to be hit anf d hit hard. Engineer was well worth the price of admission to the game. He played his shots and was a joy to watch. Bob Barber was another talented opener from the 60s. During the '65 Ashes tour, they dedicated the Roger Miller song to him, "England Swings".

  • Nakiman on July 18, 2010, 10:44 GMT

    What about Matthew Hayden, Jayasuriya, Chris Gayle, Hershal Gibbs. The first 3 have high strike rates and have scored some incredible knocks at a very rapid rate.

  • Arvind on July 18, 2010, 10:27 GMT

    Excellent article. My choice is obvious one Ian Chapell too chose. The Great Viru. I remember Chennai 08. I think day 3 morning. Second over of the day by Ntini. I had just got settled in Stand next to Pavilion. And a ball comes roaring knocking a fan 2 seats before me and he bled immediately. Next over was another Six. Then Ntini standing near our boundary turned back and gestured to us who were roaring as " What is this? What can I do". This sums up the Man. No wonder Master chose him as his reincarnation.

  • Shafiq on July 18, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    Well amazing that Saeed Anwar must have been here, the fantstic dashing oener.... probably better then all mentioned.

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  • Shafiq on July 18, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    Well amazing that Saeed Anwar must have been here, the fantstic dashing oener.... probably better then all mentioned.

  • Arvind on July 18, 2010, 10:27 GMT

    Excellent article. My choice is obvious one Ian Chapell too chose. The Great Viru. I remember Chennai 08. I think day 3 morning. Second over of the day by Ntini. I had just got settled in Stand next to Pavilion. And a ball comes roaring knocking a fan 2 seats before me and he bled immediately. Next over was another Six. Then Ntini standing near our boundary turned back and gestured to us who were roaring as " What is this? What can I do". This sums up the Man. No wonder Master chose him as his reincarnation.

  • Nakiman on July 18, 2010, 10:44 GMT

    What about Matthew Hayden, Jayasuriya, Chris Gayle, Hershal Gibbs. The first 3 have high strike rates and have scored some incredible knocks at a very rapid rate.

  • Bill on July 18, 2010, 12:08 GMT

    A Wonderful article. It was so pleasing to see openers from other eras included rather than the normal few from the last 20 years or so. Colin Milburn was a joy to watch. He believed the ball was there to be hit anf d hit hard. Engineer was well worth the price of admission to the game. He played his shots and was a joy to watch. Bob Barber was another talented opener from the 60s. During the '65 Ashes tour, they dedicated the Roger Miller song to him, "England Swings".

  • Kamran Rehmat on July 18, 2010, 13:11 GMT

    Have you got your blinkers on or what? Where is Saeed Anwer in all of this? Sehwag's a class act alright but let's make a fair call and see how domineering the stats are on featherbeds in the arc covering Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

  • Irfan on July 18, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    Rubbish, how can writer forgot to mention about Saeed Anwar, Mathew Hayden, Jaysuria & Chis Gyle & i am shocked to see that Srikanth is preferred over the above names.

  • Rony on July 18, 2010, 15:53 GMT

    What about them? Sehwag is miles above and beyond everyone else. Nakiman, the people you mention have strike rates of what...60 at best? Sehwags strike rate is 80!! Ridiculous. Not to mention his average of 50+ and his ability to make MASSIVE scores. No one compares to how effective Sehwag is.

  • lokman hakim on July 18, 2010, 19:21 GMT

    This is a fair selection i think.. . . Happy to see name of young Tamim Iqbal among the legends. Tamim is a blistering opener indeed.

  • Sohel ahmed on July 18, 2010, 20:14 GMT

    And Tamim iqbal is just making his way to become one of the all time great dashing test opener.One can't forget the way he recently made back to back centuries against england.A genuine Royal bengal tiger in the making with all tooth and nails firing at once;a champ among some minnows

  • redring on July 18, 2010, 23:02 GMT

    Michael Slater was way in front of most of these blokes with his average of 44