The 2011 World Cup was a pretty good one for openers. Tillakaratne Dilshan led the way with 500 runs at an average of 62.50, while Sachin Tendulkar wasn't far behind with 482 runs at 53.55. Both had strike rates of more than 90, and they were also the two leading run-scorers in the entire tournament. Six other openers scored 300 or more runs in the competition, and all of them averaged more than 42. Overall in the tournament, openers averaged nearly 34, at a strike rate of 82.
Even before the tournament started, it was clear that openers would do pretty well given the subcontinent conditions. The pitches were generally slow and not offering too much bounce, and there was only one ball being used (and not one at each end, as is the case now), which meant the best opportunities to score were often at the start of the innings, when the ball was new and coming on to the bat well. The last time openers averaged more was in 1996, when the tournament was again held in the subcontinent.
The role of the opener in one-day internationals has changed too, over time. When the format started, most openers preferred to start cautiously, see off the new ball, and set a sound platform for the other batsmen to capitalise and score quickly. In the first two World Cups, openers averaged more than 35, but their strike rate was less than the overall tournament rate. In 1983 the openers' average dropped and so did their scoring rate, which was now 16% lower than the tournament average. When the subcontinent hosted its first World Cup in 1987, the openers' average increased but their strike rate remained significantly lower than the tournament average.
The 1996 tournament was the first time that openers scored faster than the other batsmen, as Sachin Tendulkar, Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar and Sanath Jayasuriya spearheaded the idea that openers should not only build a platform but also set the pace, as they all scored at a strike rate of more than 85. Since then, in all World Cups save the one in England in 1999, the collective strike rate of the opening batsmen has been higher than the overall tournament strike rate in each World Cup. At the same time, the averages have dropped from the highs of the first two tournaments, which indicates how the role of the opener has changed: no longer is it enough for teams to keep wickets in hand and expect the later batsmen to make up for a slow start. (In the 1979 final, England, chasing 287, had an opening partnership of 129, but Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley took 38 overs to score those runs, leaving the others with 158 to get in 22 overs; they didn't even get close, and were bowled out for 194. It's unimaginable that something similar can happen in an ODI today.)
Stats for opening batsmen in each World Cup
Year Inngs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Tournament SR
1975 60 38.39 58.20 4/ 13 59.84
1979 56 35.98 49.70 1/ 15 54.52
1983 108 27.65 51.82 2/ 16 61.99
1987 108 35.67 65.29 6/ 22 74.48
1992 154 33.81 61.10 6/ 32 66.47
1996 142 36.64 75.18 9/ 27 72.15
1999 168 27.56 61.73 6/ 22 64.85
2003 206 33.28 76.70 11/ 38 72.63
2007 204 30.43 76.39 12/ 33 75.87
2011 194 33.97 81.88 12/ 31 78.39
On the last two occasions when the tournament was hosted in the subcontinent, the scoring rates for openers fell in the edition immediately after - the drop in 1999 was especially significant after the 1996 bounty. While a strike rate of 80 is hardly extraordinary for openers - or any batsman - these days, the table below does suggest that openers will find the going harder than they did in 2011. Apart from the conditions in Australia and New Zealand generally being more challenging for openers, there's also the challenge of two new balls which openers will have to handle this time.
In all ODIs since the beginning of 2009, openers average the highest in India, which isn't a surprise: all four ODI double-centuries have been scored during this period, in India and by openers. One of those knocks was 264, by Rohit Sharma, who averages 85 at a strike rate of 110 when opening in India, and 32.5 at a strike rate of 66 when opening outside India. Rohit has scored more runs in 13 innings as opener in India - 939 - than he has in 28 innings as opener overseas - 846.
The lowest average for openers is in Bangladesh. However, the Bangladesh average is skewed by the poor averages of the home team (28.54) and Zimbabwe (average 16.21 in 38 innings). Excluding Bangladesh, the lowest average for openers is in Australia - 31.51, though in New Zealand the average is a more impressive 36.08. In India, the openers have scored a hundred or a fifty once every 3.84 innings; in Australia the rate drops to once every 4.62 innings. That means the rate of passing 50 in Australia is about 20% lower than the corresponding rate in India.
Opening batsmen stats in each country since Jan 2009 (Qual: 150 inngs)
Host Inngs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
India 334 38.77 88.88 27/ 60
Zimbabwe 224 36.81 77.43 15/ 46
New Zealand 198 36.08 86.96 17/ 33
England 292 34.64 81.12 13/ 58
UAE 252 34.61 78.55 16/ 48
Sri Lanka 332 34.32 83.54 26/ 53
South Africa 252 33.42 80.67 21/ 41
West Indies 262 32.04 77.69 14/ 47
Australia 268 31.51 81.91 14/ 44
Bangladesh 334 30.08 77.13 18/ 50
The table below lists the ODI stats for all openers who've batted at least six innings in Australia since the beginning of 2009. Among the three names at the bottom of the list are those of Sachin Tendulkar (143 runs in seven innings at 20.42) and Chris Gayle (63 runs in seven innings at 10.50). In 14 innings between them, the highest score for either was 48. Tendulkar has done much better on previous tours to Australia, but had a poor tour in 2011-12, scoring 143 runs in seven innings. Upul Tharanga scored 127 in eight innings, while Andrew Strauss managed 179 from seven.
Shane Watson has the best stats among the lot, with nine 50-plus scores in 20 innings as opener, but he is the only one to average more than 43, and one of only three openers, out of 13, to average more than 40.
On the other hand, in India, out of 16 openers who've played six or more innings, nine average more than 40 - that's 56.25%, compared to 23% in Australia. While the highest average in Australia is Watson's 45.57, the highest in India is Rohit Sharma's 85.36 (939 runs, including 264 in a single innings, and out 11 times). Sachin Tendulkar averages 63.83 in 20 innings, while there are five others who average more than 45.57.
The Test match pitches in Australia this season were hardly terrifying, but even so, with two new balls and friendlier pace bowling conditions, openers are likely to have a tougher tournament this time around.
Openers who've played at least 6 inngs in Aus in ODIs since Jan 2009
Batsman Inngs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Shane Watson 20 866 45.57 96.54 2/ 7
Tillakaratne Dilshan 19 720 42.35 77.75 2/ 3
Mahela Jayawardene 11 370 41.11 89.37 0/ 3
Brad Haddin 16 594 39.60 85.59 1/ 2
Hashim Amla 10 355 39.44 77.34 1/ 2
Aaron Finch 17 613 36.05 86.33 3/ 1
David Warner 28 964 34.42 89.34 2/ 6
Shaun Marsh 15 507 33.80 72.22 0/ 3
Matthew Wade 10 292 29.20 75.06 0/ 2
Andrew Strauss 7 179 25.57 82.48 0/ 2
Sachin Tendulkar 7 143 20.42 82.65 0/ 0
Upul Tharanga 8 127 18.14 57.72 0/ 1
Chris Gayle 7 63 10.50 108.62 0/ 0

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