Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Opening Conundrum

My original 56-man shortlist for the Greatest Test XI contained only six opening batsmen which, in retrospect, was proably a mistake. I therefore feel an extra opener (or possibly two) should replace middle-order batsmen.

Here are four possible candidates:

Gordon Greenidge A hugely destructive and intimidating opening batsman during the West Indies' heyday, who ensured opening sides were almost of fearful as bowling first as batting first. Few who saw it will ever forget his phenomenal last day 214* at Lord's in 1984.

Bill Ponsford Ponsford averaged 48 in Tests in the decade between 1924 and '34, while his first-class average is an outstanding 65. He is the only batsman in history to have hit two first-class 400s, and was a fine player of spin, yet there is a feeling he could have been even better. As Cricinfo comments, "In his first and last series, those of 1924-25 and 1934 against England, he made nearly half of his total of Test runs for an average of 64.81, whereas in his other six series he made his runs at under 40."

Graham Gooch Only averaged 42 in Tests but played his best Test cricket after the age of 35, and succeeded against some of the best pace attacks of all time. A courageous batsman who could counter-attack to great effect, his brilliant 154* against the West Indies at Headingley in 1991 is offically rated the finest Test innings of all time, while he holds the record for most runs ever in a Test match (456 against India in 1990).

Matthew Hayden Hayden has the highest Test average of any of these candidates, and scored 500 runs in three Tests in India in 2001, but the extreme weakness of many of the attacks he plundred runs against counts against him. Hayden embodies power and intimidation in the days of bigger bats, smaller boundaries and weaker bowling, but many believe he would not have thrived in more bowler-friendly eras.

Please leave your views on the respective merits of these candidates, and feel free to suggest other possible names.


Richard Lake said...

I don't know much about Ponsford. Although his stats are impressive, the fact that he isn't that well know in comparison to some of his pre-war contemporaries must count against him.

Gooch had a few good years in a struggling England team. However, if he was playing now, I suspect he would have been discarded long before he got to the purple patch. 21 games before his first century as an opener. Eleven centuries in five years from 90 to 94 respectively is certainly world class, but what preceded and followed it isn't.

I'd discount Matty Haydon, purely on the basis that this is the best team of the 20th century, and although he made his debut in 93, he wasn't a regular in the Australian team until the turn of the century. I also suspect him of being a flat track bully, who struggles against the best bowling attacks (India away 2004, England away 2005)

To my mind the most influential of the four is Greenidge. He's the first really aggressive opener that I can think back to and set the tone for the awesome WI team of the 70s and 80s. He played his first 12 tests away from the WI and scored 4 centuries, including on debut. His average isn't as high as Haydon, but there again, he didn't have Bangladesh or Zimbabwe to plunder for runs - even Sri Lanka were before his time.

The other openers on the list are traditional accumulators of runs. Greenidge set up the modern game for quick scoring at the start of an innings.

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Cant believe you missed out on Gavaskar!