Strauss and Cook's no-win situation at Trent Bridge August 1, 2007

Pity the poor opener

Aakash Chopra on the hazards of being an opening batsman



It's heads you lose, tails you lose for Andrew Strauss at Trent Bridge © Getty Images

India must be pretty chuffed, having marked the 60th year of independence with a rare Test win in England.

A lot of credit must go to Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik for that stand of 147 -- it really set up the game. At the same time, as an opener myself, I felt for Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss. This time around, they had the rough end of the deal. Opening isn't easy at the best of times and in this Test, the England openers were greeted with a double nightmare.

As an opener, you always want to bat first - that way you bat at least once when your legs and mind aren't tired after you've spent a day and a half in the field. But there is one situation in which no opener wants to bat first: when the wicket is damp or very green, and the conditions are overcast.

Trent Bridge scored on most of those counts. It wasn't overcast on Friday, but the players had to wait for the game to start.

That's especially bad for an opener - you go through your usual ritual and then are asked to wait. You while away the time doing random things but with an eye on the proceedings: When is the next inspection? What are the chances of any play on the day? What's the weather forecast? You want to relax but you can't.

You do get half an hour after the toss to set yourself up, but taking guard on the damp Trent Bridge pitch wasn't just another day in office. It called for special skills and a particular mindset, and a bit of luck.

In back-to-back Tests, when you've scored runs in the previous game, like Strauss had, you are at greater risk of becoming a victim of your confidence. It's hard to be cautious when you have runs under your belt.

When you get runs after coming off a bad patch, like Strauss did, you tend to think that everything is back to normal. But it obviously takes a lot more than a couple of good scores to get back into regular scoring mode again.

On the other hand, Cook, having got starts in both innings in the previous game, was rightly cautious and was willing to bide his time.

The other unpleasant scenario for an opener is when you need to bat a handful of overs before stumps after having fielded five sessions or more. When an opener is fielding, as soon as about eight opposition batsmen get out, he tends to drift into his own world. The preparation for the second innings starts when you're still on the field.

Openers get used to batting in the mornings, when it's bright, and though all of us have batted at the end of the day, the idea is still alien in practice

Some might say that it isn't right to have your mind wandering while the task at hand is as yet unfinished, but then an opener gets only seven-odd minutes to change clothes, put on his gear, and get back on the ground. On paper it's a ten-minute break, but when you take away the time it takes to get to and from the dressing room, it's more like seven. So, towards the end of the second or third innings, openers are usually given some leeway - they're pulled out of close-in fielding duties, say.

Having said that, there are times when the opposition's tail wags for longer than anticipated, and the openers go through an agonising wait again. This happens often but when it's a question of facing a few overs at the end of the day, it is especially difficult.

It's even tougher if you've got out for not much in the first innings and it's your last chance in the game.

If you've seen the pitch improve drastically leading up to your second time at the crease, like with Strauss and Cook at Trent Bridge, your thought processes turn around. Caution is still required but in a different sense. At Trent Bridge the ball was not going to do as much as it did in the first morning, which meant the Indian bowlers would have to bowl a lot straighter. That in turn implied that the caution for Strauss and Cook in the second innings was to neither get carried away with playing too many strokes (which can happen when the bowlers bowling straighter) or - the other extreme - get bogged down.

Openers get used to batting in the mornings, when it's bright, and though all of us have batted at the end of the day, the idea is still alien in practice.

The thing is, no matter how fit you are, mentally and physically, or how much you train, it's tough playing with an exhausted mind and body. If there are only five overs to play out, the openers still have to go out, whereas the No. 3 has the option of sending out a nightwatchman if a wicket falls.

The only good thing about batting at the end of a day is that it's an opportunity to score some runs: the attacking fields get you full value for your shots. In order to take wickets, bowlers tend to bowl at you instead of setting up a dismissal, and you end up playing a lot more balls than you would normally do - provided you're in decent nick. I remember how excited Viru [Sehwag] was when India had to bat out a few overs before stumps on day four in the 2004 Chennai Test against Australia.

Opening isn't an easy job, but then again no one forces anyone to be an opener. Still, I couldn't help but feel a sneaking sympathy for Strauss and Cook.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is currently playing league cricket in Staffordshire, and for the MCC