Opening pairs in a slump
In the last 25 opening partnerships in Tests, there have been only two stands of 50 or more, with a highest of 70. The last seven read as follows: 21, 8, 24, 4, 26, 22, 17. The last century stand for the first wicket came 45 innings ago, when Chris Rogers and David Warner added 123 in Cape Town in March this year. Since that game, the average opening partnership in Tests has dropped to 28.07. In 2014 so far, there have been only five century partnerships for the first wicket. Clearly, these haven't been great times for opening pairs, and the malaise has extended to most teams in international cricket over the last three years.
In the 2000s, several teams had settled opening pairs. Australia had the solidity and flair of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, England had Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick, and then Strauss and Alastair Cook, India were well-served by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, while South Africa had Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. At the same time, the 2000s was also a period when fast-bowling resources were a bit thin for most teams. The combination of the two resulted in a period that was bountiful for openers.
The opening partnership average between January 2001 and December 2010 was 41.36, which is more than the corresponding averages over all the previous decades going back to the 1950s. In the 1990s, when fast-bowling resources were more plentiful around the world, the average opening stand was about six runs fewer, with a century partnership every 13.4 innings. In the 2000s the frequency of century stands increased to one every 10.4 innings, but since 2011 it's dropped to one every 15.3 innings.
|Period||Inngs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|2011-Aug 7, 2014*||551||33.91||36/ 75|
The team-wise stats for opening partnerships in these two periods - between 2001 and 2010, and since the start of 2011 - show which teams have slipped up over the last three-and-a-half years. Between 2001 and 2010, South Africa and Australia both had opening partnership averages of more than 50, while India were almost there as well. In the period since 2011, though, both South Africa and India have slipped by about 15 runs and landed up in the mid-30s, which is the most significant drop among all teams. Australia have slipped too, but their average of 42.61 is still better than all other teams during this period; between 2001 and 2010, four teams had a higher average than that. The other team which has slipped up quite significantly is England - from 46.58 to 36.90 - thanks to Strauss' retirement and Cook's poor form.
|Inngs||Average||100/ 50 stands||Inngs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|South Africa||193||52.21||24/ 42||52||37.52||5/ 6|
|Australia||218||51.54||26/ 54||71||42.61||8/ 15|
|India||201||49.64||30/ 37||63||33.44||3/ 9|
|England||241||46.58||29/ 56||78||35.90||5/ 11|
|Pakistan||152||37.32||12/ 29||52||31.60||5/ 5|
|West Indies||180||36.76||15/ 30||58||30.58||3/ 6|
|Sri Lanka||161||35.17||11/ 29||67||34.92||3/ 10|
|New Zealand||140||30.89||7/ 20||60||28.83||3/ 7|
|Bangladesh||132||26.40||4/ 14||30||25.40||0/ 4|
|Zimbabwe||67||23.88||4/ 3||20||27.60||1/ 2|
In the ten years before 2011, there were seven pairs who batted together at least 20 times and averaged 50 or more; in all, there were only 17 pairs that opened 20 or more times, which shows how lucrative the opening position was then. Neil McKenzie and Smith were in smashing form, averaging more than 66, with 13 fifty-plus stands in 27 partnerships. Admittedly, the average was boosted significantly by a 415-run stand against Bangladesh in Chittagong, but even otherwise they were prolific at the top, getting century stands in India, England and Australia. Smith had a rollicking time at the top with two other partnerships as well - he averaged 56.28 with Gibbs, and 54.86 with AB de Villiers.
All three of those South African pairs are in the top four in the list below, and the one pair that squeezes in among them is India's Sehwag and Gambhir - they averaged 60.43 from 61 innings, with 29 stands of 50 or more. Fifty-one out of those 61 partnerships were in Asia, where they averaged 60.87. They didn't bat together much outside Asia, but one of their best stands was in the second innings of the Centurion Test in 2010, when they put together 137.
Hayden and Langer formed an outstanding partnership for Australia, averaging 51.88 in 113 innings, and after their departure Shane Watson and Simon Katich shone too in their briefer association, adding 1523 runs in 28 partnerships.
|Pair||Inngs||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 p'ships|
|Neil McKenzie-Graeme Smith||27||1664||66.56||5/ 8|
|Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag||61||3505||60.43||10/ 19|
|Herschelle Gibbs-Graeme Smith||56||2983||56.28||7/ 10|
|AB de Villiers-Graeme Smith||30||1646||54.86||4/ 6|
|Simon Katich-Shane Watson||28||1523||54.39||3/ 10|
|Andrew Strauss-Marcus Trescothick||52||2670||52.35||8/ 12|
|Matthew Hayden-Justin Langer||113||5655||51.88||14/ 24|
|Marcus Trescothick-Michael Vaughan||54||2487||48.76||6/ 15|
|Herschelle Gibbs-Gary Kirsten||29||1406||48.48||4/ 4|
|Alastair Cook-Andrew Strauss||86||3678||43.78||10/ 14|
Since the beginning of 2011, the number of success stories have diminished considerably. Of the 18 pairs who've batted together at least ten times during this period, only two average more than 50 per partnership. One of them features a player who seems to have been discarded by his team's selectors: Nick Compton and Cook averaged 57.93 in 17 stands, with six 50-plus partnerships. In their last stand together, against New Zealand at Headingley, the pair added 72. Compton scored only seven of those runs though, and that coupled with his earlier failures - he'd scored only 47 in his previous five innings, but centuries in two successive innings before that - led England's selectors to believe that they could dispense with him. Since Compton was dropped England have struggled with their opening partnerships (though that's also because of Cook's loss of form): his ten stands with Joe Root have averaged 26.60, and ten with Michael Carberry has averaged 25. In 30 opening partnerships since Compton was dropped, there's been only one that exceeded 72 (which was the last stand between Cook and Compton) - 85 between Carberry and Cook in Perth last year.
Sri Lanka had a decent time with Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, averaging 50.84 in 13 innings, before Karunaratne was dropped following a string of innings when he failed to convert starts. The pair also got starts for the opening wicket each time they batted together in England, adding 54, 25, 37 and 40 in four innings. Most of the other pairs have had less success. India's Murali Vijay and Dhawan have averaged 42.47, but in 14 overseas innings they've averaged only 22.42, with a highest stand of 49. Gambhir and Sehwag averaged 15.16 from 12 overseas partnerships, compared to an overall average of 34.88 from 26 opening stands during this period.
|Pair||Inngs||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 p'ships|
|Nick Compton-Alastair Cook||17||927||57.93||3/ 3|
|Dimuth Karunaratne-Kaushal Silva||13||661||50.84||2/ 2|
|Chris Rogers-David Warner||20||911||45.55||4/ 3|
|Ed Cowan-David Warner||28||1256||44.85||3/ 6|
|Chris Gayle-Kieran Powell||17||707||44.18||1/ 2|
|Shikhar Dhawan-Murali Vijay||17||722||42.47||1/ 1|
|Phil Hughes-Shane Watson||11||438||39.81||1/ 3|
|Alviro Petersen-Graeme Smith||38||1354||37.61||4/ 4|
|Tino Mawoyo-Vusi Sibanda||12||422||35.16||1/ 2|
|Tillakaratne Dilshan-Tharanga Paranavitana||19||668||35.15||1/ 4|
A comparison with the partnership stats for other wickets shows how drastic the fall has been for the opening partnership, even as the stats for other wickets have remained largely unchanged, or changed by a much smaller percentage. In 2014, the average opening stand is smaller than the stands for all other wickets except nine and ten, while in the period between 2011 and 2014 it's sixth among the ten wickets; in contrast, it was ranked fourth-best in the period between 2001 and 2010. Clearly, the openers need to raise their game.
|Wicket||Inngs||Average||100/ 50 stands||Inngs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|1st||551||33.91||36/ 75||1687||41.36||162/ 314|
|2nd||542||39.78||48/ 109||1649||43.37||188/ 303|
|3rd||532||41.41||46/ 102||1610||45.71||192/ 293|
|4th||517||43.74||59/ 83||1577||44.63||188/ 288|
|5th||499||45.20||62/ 98||1524||40.20||156/ 259|
|6th||487||35.27||39/ 72||1465||38.41||112/ 273|
|7th||458||28.65||21/ 54||1404||28.62||60/ 175|
|8th||438||22.68||4/ 57||1337||22.57||32/ 118|
|9th||420||17.50||4/ 25||1276||17.93||9/ 97|
|10th||395||16.19||5/ 16||1181||13.81||7/ 38|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter