January 27, 2012

Cook-Strauss, and other durable openers

A look at the long-term opening combinations and their partnership records in different regions

Only three other opening pairs have achieved the mark that Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss reached when they opened the batting in the first innings of the Abu Dhabi Test. The England pair haven't been opening the batting for as long as Greenidge-Haynes, Jayasuriya-Atapattu or Hayden-Langer, but despite being an opening combination for less than six years, they have already reached the 100-innings mark. That's a function of the amount of Test cricket that England play, but it also shows that they have been a pretty reliable pair at the top of the order - no other opening pair from England have been together for as many innings.

The fact that only three opening combinations have played together for more than 100 innings out of the 1312 pairs that have opened the batting in Test cricket (a percentage of 0.23) shows how difficult a feat this is. Cook and Strauss have had their ups and downs since they began opening the batting: in the 19 series in which they have batted together before the ongoing one against Pakistan, they have both averaged more than 40 in only four series (including one against Bangladesh). (Click here for Strauss' series-wise averages during this period, and here for Cook's.) Strauss had a terrible time in the Ashes in 2006-07, and then in series against West Indies (2007), South Africa (2008), Pakistan (2010) and Sri Lanka in 2011, when he scored 27 in four innings. Cook struggled too in the Ashes in 2006-07 (average 27.60) and 2009 (average 24.66), as also against Pakistan in 2010, but despite some hiccups, mostly one opener has covered for the other: only in three series have both Cook and Strauss averaged less than 40.

The table below looks at the opening pairs who have batted together in at least 75 innings at the top of the order. Only six pairs make the cut, and in terms of averages, three - Hayden-Langer, Slater-Taylor and Gambhir-Sehwag - have 50-plus averages. Cook-Strauss have a lower average, but they have done a pretty good job of occupying the crease: the average balls per dismissal for their partnership is 81, which means they bat, on average, for 13.3 overs, which is usually about an hour in a Test match (especially when new-ball bowlers are bowling early in the innings). Gambhir-Sehwag average 53.58, but their quicker rate of scoring also means they get those runs in 69 balls (11.3 overs).

Opening pairs who have batted together in more than 75 innings
Pair Innings Runs P'ship average 100/ 50 stands
Gordon Greenidge/ Desmond Haynes 148 6482 47.31 16/ 26
Marvan Atapattu/ Sanath Jayasuriya 118 4469 40.26 9/ 24
Matthew Hayden/ Justin Langer 113 5655 51.88 14/ 24
Alastair Cook/ Andrew Strauss 99 4190 42.75 11/ 16
Michael Slater/ Mark Taylor 78 3887 51.14 10/ 16
Gautam Gambhir/ Virender Sehwag 77 3965 53.58 10/ 23

The Gambhir-Sehwag pair has the highest average among the list above, but that's also a function of the conditions in which they have played most of their games. Of the 77 times when they have opened the batting, 56 have been in the Asian subcontinent, and in those outings, Gambhir and Sehwag have been outstanding, averaging 60.64 per partnership, with nine century stands and 20 half-century ones. In fact, no opening pair has scored as many partnership runs in Asia as the 3275 that Gambhir and Sehwag have added.

However, outside the subcontinent they are a considerably lesser force: in 18 innings outside Asia (excluding Zimbabwe), they have only averaged 28.22. Their only century stand in those 18 innings was in Centurion in 2010, when they added 137 in the second innings. Since that stand, though, their opening acts outside Asia read thus: 19, 27, 8, 3, 22, 17, 0, 18, 4, 24, 26 - 168 runs in 11 innings at 15.27, with a highest stand of 27.

The table below lists the opening pairs from the subcontinent who have scored more than 500 partnership runs outside Asia, and most of them have better numbers than Gambhir-Sehwag. Gavaskar and Chauhan, for instance, averaged 47.92, with four century stands in 25 innings. The stats for Bangladesh's Imrul Kayes and Tamim Iqbal are even better: they average 53.50 in 14 innings outside Asia; in their last six such stands they have notched up the following partnerships: 79 and 35 (Hamilton), 88 and 185 (Lord's), 126 and 2 (Old Trafford). Bangladesh have struggled in most aspects of their game in Test cricket, but their opening batting has been one of their huge redeeming features.

Among the 12 opening pairs in the list below, Pakistan's Mudassar-Mohsin partnership is the only one with an average below that of Gambhir-Sehwag.

Subcontinent opening pairs outside Asia (Qual: 500 runs, excl. Zimbabwe)
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 p'ships
Sunil Gavaskar/ Chetan Chauhan 25 1198 47.92 4/ 3
Imran Farhat/ Salman Butt 24 855 35.62 2/ 5
Marvan Atapattu/ Sanath Jayasuriya 28 779 31.16 1/ 4
Imrul Kayes/ Tamim Iqbal 14 749 53.50 2/ 3
Majid Khan/ Sadiq Mohammad 18 728 45.50 2/ 5
Wasim Jaffer/ Virender Sehwag 18 643 35.72 2/ 4
Mohsin Khan/ Mudassar Nazar 22 607 27.59 0/ 6
Vijay Merchant/ Mushtaq Ali 7 584 83.42 2/ 3
Sunil Gavaskar/ Kris Srikkanth 10 565 56.50 1/ 4
Aamer Sohail/ Rameez Raja 19 525 30.88 2/ 1
Aamer Sohail/ Saeed Anwar 14 512 36.57 3/ 0
Gautam Gambhir/ Virender Sehwag 18 508 28.22 1/ 1

Coming back to Cook and Strauss, they have done reasonably well in most of the countries they have played in. Asia has been a bit of a problem - they average 36.36 in 11 innings - while in South Africa they average 30 in seven innings. However, they have managed a century stand in each of those countries/ continents. In Australia they had plenty of problems in 2006-07, scoring 270 runs in ten innings, but they did much better in 2010-11, putting together 549 runs in just seven innings.

Cook-Strauss opening stands in each country/ continent
Country/ Continent Innings Runs Average 100/ 50 stands
West Indies 9 531 66.37 2/ 1
Australia 17 819 48.17 2/ 2
England 56 2230 40.54 5/ 10
Asia 11 400 36.36 1/ 2
South Africa 7 210 30.00 1/ 1
Career 100 4190 42.75 11/ 16

Cook and Strauss have scored the most runs of any opening pair in England, but there are several other pairs who have had higher averages. The Hobbs-Sutcliffe combination is beyond compare, but even other pairs - incuding Strauss-Trescothick, Atherton-Gooch and Trescothick-Vaughan - have been far more productive per innings.

The surprise, though, is the pair right at the bottom of this list. Graham Gooch and Geoff Boycott were both fantastic openers, yet on the 23 occasions when they opened the batting in Tests in England, they averaged a mere 28.36 per partnership. Much of the reason for that, though, was the fact that 20 of those 23 partnerships were against the might of West Indies and Australia.

England's openers at home
Pair Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Cook-Strauss 56 2230 40.54 5/ 10
Hobbs-Sutcliffe 23 2047 93.04 9/ 8
Strauss-Trescothick 38 2039 55.10 6/ 11
Atherton-Gooch 30 1910 63.67 6/ 9
Hutton-Washbrook 26 1368 59.47 4/ 6
Trescothick-Vaughan 19 1020 60.00 2/ 7
Atherton-Butcher 18 833 46.27 3/ 0
Boycott-Edrich 24 813 36.95 2/ 5
Atherton-Stewart 17 762 44.82 2/ 4
Atherton-Trescothick 18 707 39.27 2/ 5
Boycott-Gooch 23 624 28.36 1/ 3

Here's a look at how three of the other pairs have fared in different conditions. The two Australian pairs have done fairly well in most of the regions across the world, but the Greenidge-Haynes combination have a huge home bias: in the West Indies, they have averaged more than 65, but in Asia their average stand drops to 28.65. In fact, their numbers are very similar to those of Gambhir-Sehwag in the subcontinent and outside. Greenidge and Haynes haven't done too well in Australia either, averaging 34 in 28 outings. In 54 innings in Australia and the subcontinent, the Greenidge-Haynes pair had only two century stands; in contrast, they had ten such partnerships in 63 stands at home.

Slater-Taylor, Hayden-Langer and Greenidge-Haynes in each region
Region Slater-Taylor:Inngs/ Ave Hayden-Langer:Inngs/ Ave Greenidge-Haynes:Inngs/Ave
Asia 18/ 37.27 18/ 39.66 26/ 28.65
Australia 39/ 57.71 61/ 56.06 28/ 34.00
England 10/ 67.60 11/ 60.00 19/ 37.42
New Zealand - 5/ 36.20 12/ 52.18
South Africa 4/ 33.00 10/ 41.22 -
West Indies 7/ 35.83 8/ 60.87 63/ 65.44

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2012, 14:36 GMT

    and guys just go back and look what happened to England O mighty England in Desert :)

  • Ryan on January 28, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    @drinks.break sorry what was that again?

  • David on January 28, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Excellent work, mikey76 ... you've managed to talk eloquently about one-eyed supporters while your own pirate patch is super-glued firmly in place! Where to start? 1. Aus is now equal 3rd with Ind, and moving up (victory against WI in April will put them in outright 3rd); 2. The last Ashes in UK was a close series, only being decided in the last couple of days; 3. Australia batted and bowled better than Eng for much of the series, but lost the crucial sessions - and that's when Aus was in the dumps and sinking further ... let's wait for next time and see! 4. Eng is justifiably #1, but 19 centuries at 41.6 in this day and age of flat wickets and short boundaries makes Strauss a very middle-of-the-pack opener, way behind Sehwag, Smith and Gambhir (not to mention greats like Hayden and Langer, even Tresco and Katich) and on a par with Umar and Dilshan; 5. If a thrashing in the 1st test with the 2nd in the balance is doing OK, then I'll look forward to Eng doing OK next Ashes!

  • michael on January 28, 2012, 3:40 GMT

    More hilarious comments from our one eyed Australian friends. Hobbs and Sutcliffe average 93 as a pair so that makes them the best opening combo of all time DUH!! Strauss isn't South African, he was born there thats all. They call him Lord Brockett because of his posh english accent! Usman Khawaja was born in Pakistan but you conveniently forget that don't you.And he has scored 19 test hundreds at over 40 which qualifies him as a good opener.If our win against India was average then so was yours. We rolled them over far more cheaply than you have and we scored more runs against them. And the last time I looked we were doing OK against Pakistan. Were so far ahead in the ICC rankings its not even funny, where are Austalia??? ooh 5th I believe!! Can't wait to turn you clowns over in the ashes....AGAIN!

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2012, 1:41 GMT

    Wow. Surprised to see Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes doing so well outside of Asia especially considering the teams the are being compared to.

  • Venkatesh on January 27, 2012, 21:24 GMT

    Brilliant article...It's interesting to note that, despite the long history of test match cricket, only four opening partnerships have achieved the feat of batting together in 100+ innings...Two of the other three opening partnerships were part of two of the best teams to have played in the history of the game...So, this just goes on to show the importance of having a steady and long-term opening partnership...But one surprise is the performance of Greenidge-Haynes outside the WI...I always thought they were the best opening partnership, but seems like I was wrong...Your numbers prove that Hayden and Langer were the best...It's a pity that the careesr of both Hayden and Langer got a kickstart around the agre of 30 years...Had they managed to settle into the side much earlier, God knows how many they would have scored together...

  • Kaze on January 27, 2012, 19:06 GMT

    Hayden/Langer are the best and Taylor/Langer are second, some people seem surprised, it isn;t surprising at all.

  • Chula on January 27, 2012, 18:15 GMT

    actually the article mentions what's obvious.. Hobbs & Sutcliffe are the greatest openers.. 2000 runs @ 93 avg. damn.

  • Dummy4 on January 27, 2012, 17:24 GMT

    Even though Hayden & Langer's average is better than Haynes/Greenidge, I think Haynes/Greenidge were the best. Batting wasnt as easy in their era as it became in the 2000s...

  • Dummy4 on January 27, 2012, 16:10 GMT

    if u call the indian pitches as batting tracks then would the touring teams find it difficult to win matches in india against india.every player has their strengths in their home conditions thats the reason why many opening players have done well in their home conditions.i would like to tell here that sehwag/gambhir overseas record is poor because they were out of form in many of their recent matches

  • No featured comments at the moment.