ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

The toughest venues for openers

The average opening partnership in the last 11 Tests in Centurion is 24.41, but there's one venue where opening pairs have fared even worse

S Rajesh

February 14, 2014

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Dale Steyn struck first when he removed David Warner, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day, February 12, 2014
Australia's opening stand in Centurion was 15, which is one of 23 times in the last 36 innings here when the first wicket has fallen before 20 © Getty Images

South Africa's move to bowl first in the Centurion Test was later explained as being prompted by the past record at the ground. Teams batting first have won only five Tests and lost ten times, but perhaps Smith also figured that bowling first at this venue gave his team a good chance to pick up a few early wickets and put Australia under pressure, instead of being under pressure themselves against Australia's top-class pace attack. This series has already been billed as the battle of the pace bowlers, and it has started at a venue that is one of the toughest for opening batsmen.

Batting at the top of the order remains one of the most difficult jobs in Test cricket in most conditions - though not always in the subcontinent - but at some grounds it is even more challenging than others. The last six opening partnerships in Centurion read thus: 11, 15, 13, 46, 0, 11. In the last 11 Tests played in Centurion (including the ongoing Test), there have been only two century stands for the first wicket, both in the same game, when India toured there in 2010: Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag added 137, while Alviro Petersen and Graeme Smith put together 111.

On the other hand, 15 out of 36 first-wicket partnerships during this period ended in single-digit scores, while 23 of them (64%) didn't touch 20, including the ones in the first innings for Australia and South Africa in the ongoing Test. That's an incredibly high percentage of failures, and indicates just how difficult it is to survive against the new ball at this ground. It's even worse in the first innings of a Test here, when the pitch is at its freshest: in the last 11 such attempts, the highest stand is 48, and the average 18. (Click here for the full list.)

In the last nine years, the average opening stand in a Test in Centurion is 24.41, which is the second-lowest among all venues which have had at least 20 opening stands during this period. The only ground with a worse average is Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, where the opening partnership has averaged 20.39 in 23 attempts, with a highest of 66 between Yasir Hameed and Shoaib Malik in 2005. Fifteen out of 23 opening partnerships there have ended before 20.

Close on the heels of Centurion is another South African venue where openers have struggled: at the Wanderers they've averaged only 26.84 per partnership, with two century stands in 40 attempts. Luckily for the openers from Australia and South Africa, Johannesburg isn't listed as one of the venues for the three-Test series.

A little further down the list is Cape Town as well, making South Africa the only country with three venues among the top ten toughest ones for openers. New Zealand have two, while no other country has more than one.

Venues with the lowest average opening partnerships since 2005 (Qual: 20 partnerships)
Venues P'ships Runs Average 100/ 50 stands
Sabina Park, Kingston 23 469 20.39 0/ 3
SuperSport Park, Centurion 36 879 24.41 2/ 2
Wanderers, Johannesburg 40 1047 26.84 2/ 4
Seddon Park, Hamilton 28 729 28.03 0/ 3
Harare Sports Club 27 736 28.30 1/ 4
P Sara Oval, Colombo 30 892 29.73 1/ 5
Brisbane Cricket Ground 33 1015 30.75 1/ 7
Trent Bridge, Nottingham 31 973 31.38 2/ 4
Newlands, Cape Town 52 1671 32.76 3/ 10
Basin Reserve, Wellington 47 1532 34.04 2/ 11

Centurion is a tough venue for all openers, but even more so for overseas ones. Going back all the way to 2000, overseas opening pairs have averaged 21.57 per completed partnership. In 29 opening stands by overseas batsmen here, there's been only one which has gone on to 50 or beyond, and that was by Gambhir and Sehwag, when they added 137 in India's second innings in 2010. The next-highest is 48, by Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez in 2007. In fact, that pair has three opening partnerships in the 40s in Centurion, which is quite remarkable given that those are the only four instances of 40-plus opening stands in 29 attempts at the SuperSport Park during this period.

There are, though, two other venues where overseas opening pairs have struggled even more. In Jamaica, they've managed only two 40-plus partnerships in 24 attempts, with the average being a miserable 17.82. And the Wanderers has only been slightly kinder to overseas opening pairs: the average partnership there is 20.73, with one huge stand out of 27 - 174 between Phil Hughes and Shane Watson in 2011 - but nothing else beyond 50.

Worst venues for overseas opening pairs since 2000 (Qual: 15 p'ships)
Venue P'ships Runs Average 100/ 50 stands
Sabina Park, Kington 24 410 17.82 0/ 2
Wanderers, Johannesburg 27 539 20.73 1/ 0
SuperSport Park, Centurion 29 604 21.57 1/ 0
Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy 24 540 22.50 0/ 3
Sharjah Cricket Stadium 22 569 25.86 1/ 3
Brisbane Cricket Ground 28 754 26.92 1/ 2
Seddon Park, Hamilton 25 729 31.69 0/ 4
Adelaide Oval 27 857 31.74 1/ 3
National Stadium, Karachi 16 525 32.81 1/ 3
Trent Bridge, Nottingham 26 876 33.69 2/ 4

From the table above, it's clear that there are six venues where opening pairs have found it particularly difficult to string together partnerships: the average stand for overseas pairs in Jamaica, Johannesburg, Centurion, Kandy, Sharjah and Brisbane are all less than 30 since 2000. That suggests that these are all venues which are tough for openers, and particularly so for touring openers: their average partnership at these grounds during this period is 22.62, with four century stands in 154 innings.

So what are the individual stats of openers who've played at these venues, especially those on tours? The table below lists out the 15 visiting openers who've opened here at least six times, and most of them don't have numbers they can flaunt.

At the bottom of the pile is India's Wasim Jaffer, with scores of 0, 7, 1, 1, 9, 4 - 22 runs from six innings. Pakistan's Mohammad Hafeez isn't a whole lot better - his highest in eight innings at these grounds is 19, and he averages 9.87. Justin Langer has scored only 81 from six innings, while Sehwag has a highest of 63, but has also been dismissed for 0 three times in eight innings.

The only overseas opener with a 50-plus average at these grounds is Matthew Hayden, who has scored 392 runs in seven innings, at an average of 56. (These numbers exclude his stats at the Gabba, since Brisbane is a home venue for him.) Alastair Cook has a fair average too, but that is solely because of one innings - his unbeaten 235 in Brisbane in the 2010 Ashes Test. Excluding that innings, his average drops to 19.69. New Zealand's Mark Richardson, an effective but highly under-rated opener, was a lot more consistent, topping 40 four times in seven innings at these grounds. Chris Gayle has a healthy average too, as does Pakistan's Imran Farhat, who was dismissed under 20 only once in seven innings.

Opening batsmen in overseas Tests in Brisbane, Sharjah, Centurion, Wanderers, Jamaica, since 2000
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Matthew Hayden 7 392 56.00 2/ 2
Alastair Cook 14 491 37.76 1/ 2
Mark Richardson 7 262 37.42 0/ 3
Chris Gayle 12 447 37.25 1/ 3
Imran Farhat 7 259 37.00 0/ 2
Michael Vaughan 8 258 36.85 1/ 1
Marcus Trescothick 12 395 35.90 1/ 1
Andrew Strauss 14 409 29.21 2/ 0
Marvan Atapattu 10 229 22.90 0/ 1
Daren Ganga 12 253 21.08 0/ 2
Taufeeq Umar 10 188 18.80 0/ 1
Virender Sehwag 8 149 18.62 0/ 1
Justin Langer 6 81 16.20 0/ 0
Mohammad Hafeez 8 79 9.87 0/ 0
Wasim Jaffer 6 22 3.67 0/ 0

If the venues in the tables above are those that openers would like to stay away from, then those in the table below are ones where openers would be queuing up to play on. The Indian venues are to be expected, since facing the new ball is often the best opportunity to score runs in the subcontinent. However, there are a few surprises here, with MCG being high on the list of productive opening partnerships, as also Headingley. (The MCG average is very high because of Australia's openers, who average 54.81 per partnership, but overseas pairs have done well too, averaging a healthy 38.82.) There's a South African venue in the list too, with openers averaging almost 43 in Durban, well clear of the 24.80 in Centurion. And the WACA, with its pace and bounce, has actually helped openers score runs, and score them quickly.

Venues with the highest average opening partnerships in Tests since 2005 (Qual: 20 p'ships)
Venue P'ships Runs Average 100/ 50 stands
Punjab CA Stadium, Mohali 24 1322 55.08 4/ 4
Bellerive Oval, Hobart 20 943 47.15 2/ 4
Eden Gardens, Kolkata 21 980 46.66 1/ 6
Melbourne Cricket Ground 33 1537 46.57 4/ 6
Headingley, Leeds 26 1156 46.24 3/ 7
SSC, Colombo 39 1738 45.73 4/ 11
Lord's, London 71 3143 45.55 7/ 12
McLean Park, Napier 23 931 44.33 2/ 5
WACA, Perth 35 1505 43.00 4/ 4
Kingsmead, Durban 30 1245 42.93 2/ 8
Bridgetown, Barbados 30 1278 42.60 3/ 4

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by Dummy4 on (February 15, 2014, 13:00 GMT)

Interesting that despite many opinions expressed on this blog and others on Cricinfo to the contrary, only one English ground seems to favour new ball seam/swing bowling (Trent Bridge).

The perception seems to be that facing the new swinging and seaming ball on an English "green top" is one of the reasons for England brief moment of ascendancy in test cricket a few years back.

These figures would suggest that that opinion was entirely incorrect. Not only is Trent Bridge the only ground listed - it's also at the bottom of the list for opening partnership failures - lower down the list than even than the perceived dustbowl of Karachi!

Posted by Shakti on (February 15, 2014, 11:26 GMT)

Some surfaces do play better when facing a newer ball but become dreadful to bat on as the ball gets older (particularly in India).West Indian batsmen probably have affected the statistic of Jamaica as their opening stands have not been good in this millenium.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 14, 2014, 18:04 GMT)

Not sure this is fair - in places like the West Indies, where Test sides play less, there is likely to be more unfamiliar conditions. A better judge of difficulty opening would be domestic stats

Posted by GV on (February 14, 2014, 11:34 GMT)

The fact that we are talking about openers suggests that it would be worth looking at whether the average difference between openers and others is more on green tops or "difficult wickets" compared to the difference in less challenging pitches. If so, it would suggest that tough batting conditions generally impact openers more.

Posted by Indika on (February 14, 2014, 11:07 GMT)

It is interesting to note that P Sara and Kandy are two of the worst venues for openers! So much for Sri Lankan flat tracks! lol It seems Indian grounds are the best for openers by a mile! I would also love to see the stats on overall runs per wicket in all grounds to put a rest to the argument on which grounds in the world are flat! Vs "Sharp" is it! I am sure Srl wickets will not be as flat as some people paint them out to be. (cricinfo you have never published my comments so please publish at least this one!)

Posted by Andrew on (February 14, 2014, 8:54 GMT)

I have an answer where the best place for the tail to bat ... Centurion ...20.58 in 15 tests Qualification more than 5 tests ... Then Chittagong, Dunedin, Ahmedabad, Hamilton, Trent Bridge, Kolkota, Perth, Dhaka and Napier ... Flip the Coin ... Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad is the best for bowlers ... 8.77 in 10 tests ... then Sharjah, Mumbai, Multan, Chennai, Dubai, P Sara, Sabina Park (Interesting ... does anyone score runs here ...) Abu Dhabi and Guyana ... back to Sabina Park ... Dravid averaged 56 ... Lara 46.83 ... Sarwin 46.73 ... Chanderpaul only 32.7 ... Figures from 2000 ... min 2 tests ... but it hasn't been all bad there Sobers averaged 104.15 from 11 tests there ...

Posted by Andrew on (February 14, 2014, 8:30 GMT)

Rajesh, Interesting analysis as always ... South Africa is the worst country to bat in as an opener ... I would like to see the tables turned and the stats for wickets 8,9 and 10 on each ground ... That would give an indication on how easily/difficult the tail can be mopped up so to speak. I know in the 90's the South African 'tail' had guys like Pollock/Boucher, Klusener, Symcox and Donald ... These batsmen could frustrate the opposition ... but since 2000 I would love to see the stats ...

Posted by GV on (February 14, 2014, 5:26 GMT)

Nice. Would have been excellent to get 1st Inn 2nd Inn stats. For instance, Jamaica, Perth, Brisbane etc. are as bad in the second innings, whereas Wellington and Centurion ease up quite a bit in teh second innings. Most of these averages would be inflated by better second innings figures, i figure.

Posted by Sudhakar on (February 14, 2014, 5:19 GMT)

Superb analysis! Only complaint is how such wonderful analysis is hidden in the ESPNCricinfo front page

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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