Batting July 17, 2010

Dashing openers - A priceless tribe

From S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath, India

From S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath, India

Roy Fredericks packed enormous angst in his shots Hulton/Archive / © 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

  • testli5504537 on October 13, 2010, 7:03 GMT

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

  • testli5504537 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".

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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.

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