At around this time last year, Mohammad Hafeez was having his best run in Test cricket. Between September 2011 and June 2012, he scored 1053 runs in 12 Tests at an average of 53.20, with three centuries and a highest of 196. During that period, he was Pakistan's highest run-getter. A year later, his drop in form has been so steep that there have been widespread calls for him to be dropped from the squad for the series against South Africa in October.
On the basis of his recent stats, it's clear that Pakistan need to look elsewhere for a Test opener: in his last ten innings, Hafeez scored 102 runs at an average of 10.20. He has admitted that he has had a poor run, and it'll surprise no one if his name isn't in the squad for that series.
Clearly, Hafeez's problem has been facing the new ball outside Asia. He has played all his 66 innings in Test cricket as an opener, and in Asia, he has averaged 43.42 from 39 innings, with four hundreds in 20 Tests; in other continents, his average drops to 20.80 in 14 Tests, with only two 50-plus scores in 27 innings. His ODI record outside Asia looks better at first glance - an average of 33.71, which is higher than his career average, and five hundreds in 58 matches - but that's only because of the runs scored against Zimbabwe and Ireland. Against the top sides, his average outside Asia in ODIs drops to 25.79 in 46 games.
Hafeez's issues against the new ball outside Asia isn't unique to him, though his is an extreme case of a problem that has plagued most openers from the subcontinent. Tests in Australia, England and South Africa have always been the most challenging for batsmen from the subcontinent, and especially so for the openers. Sunil Gavaskar is the only opener from the subcontinent to score more than 1500 runs in these countries: in the 26 Tests he played in Australia and England (he didn't play at all in South Africa), Gavaskar averaged 45.04, about six runs lower than his career average.
More recently, while India's batsmen have done better than other subcontinent teams on these tours, the difference has largely been in the performances of the middle-order batsmen; the openers have struggled almost equally.
The table below lists the averages of the openers from each of the subcontinent teams in Tests they've played in Australia, England and South Africa since 1990. It's interesting that Sri Lanka's openers have averaged the most, Bangladesh are second, India third, and Pakistan fourth (though all the averages lie in a narrow band between 27.90 and 30.70. That clearly shows there's little to choose between the openers of these teams, though India's middle order has been superior to the other teams during this period.
The difference that Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman made to the Indian batting is clearly visible from the table below. Thanks largely to them, India's middle order averaged almost 40 in Australia, England and South Africa, while none of the other subcontinent teams touched 33. The Indian batsmen scored 34 hundreds from 52 Tests, while Pakistan's middle order managed only 18 from 47.
In the openers' category, though, there's little to separate the four teams. Sri Lanka are ahead of the other three sides, thanks to Tillakaratne Dilshan - who averages 40.46 from eight Tests - and Marvan Atapattu, who averaged 34.44. Bangladesh's top performer has been Tamim Iqbal, with 346 runs from eight innings, including two hundreds in England, while Hannan Sarkar was also consistent in his six innings in South Africa and Australia.
The numbers for India's openers aren't as impressive as their middle order, largely because Virender Sehwag hasn't dazzled consistently in these conditions. He does have a few sparkling innings in Australia, England and South Africa, but his overall average of 34.60 when opening in these countries is well below his career average of 49.34. Gautam Gambhir has struggled too, averaging 32.67 from 15 innings, as has Wasim Jaffer, who averages less than 22. The better performers for India have all been batsmen who weren't openers to begin with - Ravi Shastri, Rahul Dravid and Dinesh Karthik all averaged more than 40 in that role.
Similarly, the pickings have been relatively slim for Pakistan as well. The classy Saeed Anwar scored a century in each of these countries and averaged 41 from 12 Tests, while Mohsin Khan had terrific tours of England and Australia in the early 1980s. Majid Khan, Aamer Sohail and Sadiq Mohammad were the others with 35-plus averages when opening in these countries. Among the current lot, Taufeeq Umar's stats stand out - in six innings, he has scored 298 at an average touching 50. Imran Farhat, though, has been poor: he has opened 34 times in these countries and hasn't scored a hundred - he averages 23.17 in these innings. (Click here for the list of Pakistan openers' stats in Australia, England and South Africa.)
However, even when compared to these performances, Hafeez scrapes the bottom of the barrel: among all subcontinent openers who've opened at least 12 times in these countries, only Pankaj Roy (average 13.70) has a poorer average as opener than Hafeez's 18.23.