Openers June 19, 2009

Tough at the top

Some openers were artists, some evoked fear, some held their wicket as dear as life - Australia's top two present many a selection dilemma

Men who have faced the new ball for Australia have swung between entertaining freewheelers and those who would rather their ribs were broken than their bails. Whittling a list to nine was tough, but only two of this group go through to Australia's outfit in the opening ballot of Cricinfo's series on All-time XIs.

The country that produced Trumper, Morris and Hayden is first on the list of Test-playing nations that will have their greatest teams nominated over the coming months. Leading the candidates for Australia are those two New South Wales left-handers Mark Taylor and Arthur Morris, followed by Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford, a pair of Victorian heroes from between the wars.

Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden go together like Bill Lawry and Bob Simpson did in the 1960s, while Victor Trumper, half man, half magician, deserves to stand alone. In all the categories there are omissions, and Michael Slater has missed out, but this is a talent competition where being an elite performer is sometimes not enough to make the shortlist.

The contenders

Arthur Morris An elegant left-hand batsman, he out-scored Don Bradman on the 1948 tour and developed into one of the finest openers in the game during a nine-year career.

Mark Taylor Tough and committed, he stood up to brutal pace from West Indies and Pakistan, while taking Australia to the top of the Test tree. Nineteen hundreds and much respect were earned in 104 matches.

Bill Woodfull A gentlemanly leader whose most famous moments came during the Bodyline series, when he took the blows and refused to retaliate. Defensive and patient, he was the old-fashioned rock at the top.

Bill Ponsford Before World War II, only Bradman liked making big scores more than Ponsford, an unflustered right-hand batsman. In England in 1934 his 569 Test runs came at 94.83.

Justin Langer One half of Australia's most prolific opening partnership, he was probably the most bruised batsman ever. Nobody was harder to dismiss.

Matthew Hayden Frightening and brutal, he overcame a tentative start to be the only one of this elite group to finish with a Test average above 50.

Bill Lawry It's easy to forget when listening to Lawry on TV that he held Australia together for long periods during the 1960s. Brave and unbreakable, he struck 13 hundreds in 67 Tests.

Bob Simpson A saviour to Australian cricket over four decades of playing and coaching, Simpson was a successful accumulator. Like Langer and Trumper, he also spent a lot of his career further down the order.

Victor Trumper The shiniest Australian of the Golden Age, Trumper's batting was like art. An average of 39 in 46 Tests doesn't diminish his beauty.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo