Openers June 14, 2010

Top-heavy

One of the most feared opening combinations and three other aggressive opening batsmen make up this enviable list

In the early days of West Indies cricket, good opening batsmen were few and far between. In fact, as it was in the middle order, in those days there was one and only one man.

His name was Clifford Roach, he was a Trinidadian, he was a right-hander, and apart from scoring West Indies' first half-century, in their second Test - 50 at Old Trafford in 1928 - he ended up scoring six half-centuries in 16 Test matches, including the first century and the first double-century by a West Indian.

However, after the watershed series of 1950, when the West Indies won away from home for the first time with a 3-1 victory over England, things changed immensely, to the point where the pioneer is not numbered among the top West Indies openers off all time.

In that memorable series of 1950, West Indies produced a pair of openers: the stylish and attractive Jeffrey Stollmeyer and the solid, defensive left-hander Allan Rae. Unfortunately, however, like Roach neither one was considered good enough to make it to this list.

And although it is not as rich as those who batted in the middle order, what a list it is.

Starting with Conrad Hunte, the line-up from which the greatest pair of West Indies openers of all time will be selected includes undoubtedly the best opening partnership in the history of West Indies cricket, and also undoubtedly one of the best in the history of Test cricket: "Greenidge and Haynes" is almost synonymous with facing the new ball.

Individually all five contenders were master batsmen; four of them leading the way: one in the late 1960s, when West Indies were arguably the best in the world, and three others between 1976 and 1995, when the team were champions of the world.

The contenders

Conrad Hunte
Following on the heels of Stollmeyer and Rae in the 1950s, Hunte was an attractive and aggressive strokeplayer in the beginning, and addressed the world with a lovely innings of 142 against Pakistan in 1958 in his first Test. Scoring 260 in the third Test and sharing a partnership of 446 with Garry Sobers for the second wicket and 114 in the fourth Test, Hunte rattled up 622 runs in the series at an average of 77.75. With no one to stay with him long enough to get the shine off the ball, however, he changed his style. Instead of being a free-flowing batsman, he became solid and dependable - an opener who could be relied upon to set the stage for the likes of Sobers and Rohan Kanhai. A good hooker, but more so a wonderful player off his legs, Hunte scored 3245 runs in 44 Tests with eight centuries at an average of 45.06.

Roy Fredericks
A small, dashing left-hander, Fredericks feared no bowler. "Freddo", as he was popularly known, hit the ball hard and often. Although he played almost all the shots, he loved to cut and to hook, and those who saw him in action in Perth in 1975-76 will never forget his treatment of Australia's Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. On the fastest pitch in the world, certainly in those days, Fredericks confronted the fastest and most feared bowlers in the world with shots that echoed around the ground like gunfire. In scoring 169 out of the 258 made while he was at the crease, he reached his century in 116 minutes (off 71 deliveries) with one six and 18 fours. "It was them or me," Fredericks said minutes after the onslaught. In 59 Test matches, he scored 4334 runs, with eight centuries, at an average of 42.49.

Gordon Greenidge
A West Indian who learnt his trade in England and then represented the Caribbean, Greenidge is statistically the finest opening batsman ever produced in the region. On debut in 1974, he made 93 and 107. Greenidge hooked at the drop of a hat, drove the ball sweetly between cover and midwicket, and favoured the square cut. He played some memorable and valuable innings through a career that lasted 108 Test matches, during which he scored 7558 runs at an average of 44.72. His record also shows 19 centuries, the best of them probably being match-winning scores of 134 (after the team collapsed to 26 for 4) and 101 in 1976 at Old Trafford. He also made an unbeaten 214 off 242 balls at Lord's in 1984, when West Indies beat the clock to win by nine wickets.

Desmond Haynes
A perfect foil to the aggressive Greenidge, Haynes, a powerfully built batsman, was solid and watchful, and content, apparently, to be No. 2 to the man at the other end. Like most West Indians, Haynes was good all round the wicket. His back-foot strokes - the cut and the hook - were solid, but his driving, especially on the off side, was something to see. In 116 Test matches, Haynes scored 7487 runs with 18 centuries, five each against England and Australia, at an average of 42.29. On three occasions he carried the bat and on another, in 1980, when West Indies lost to New Zealand by one wicket in Dunedin, he was the last man out in both innings.

Chris Gayle
Gayle is undoubtedly the biggest hitter of all opening batsmen in the history of West Indies cricket. A left-hander with limited footwork, he uses his bat like a hammer. In 2004 he brought up a century off 79 balls in Cape Town and blasted 105 off 87 with 18 fours, including six in one over from Matthew Hoggard at The Oval. There have been other days, however, like in Napier in 2008, when he controlled himself and batted to the end of the innings for 197 off 396 deliveries, and in Adelaide in 2009, when he batted undefeated for 165 in a desperate attempt to save a Test match; but in the following Test he was back to his usual self, smashing 102 off 72 deliveries with nine fours and six sixes

We'll be publishing an all-time West Indies XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your openers click here

Former sports editor of the Jamaica Gleaner and the Daily News, Tony Becca has covered West Indies cricket for 30 years

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