The best openers in Test cricket: Trans-Tasman pair of David Warner and Tom Latham is cream of the crop
As batsmen on the frontline against the new ball, openers occupy a pivotal role in Test cricket. In most conditions, the red ball swings extravagantly when it is new and poses a big examination of the batsman’s technique.
Different players take different approaches to opening the batting, with the likes of Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle choosing to go on the offensive to negate the new balls. Others like Alastair Cook and Sunil Gavaskar opted to blunt the new ball before milking their runs.
Whatever be the approach, opening the batting in a Test is no easy feat. It is a thankless task which often doesn’t get the limelight it deserves.
The ongoing era is one which has not been kind to openers, with averages coming down drastically.
Below, we have attempted to rank the top eight openers in Test cricket currently by separating them into four tiers. Performances over the last three years have been given greater consideration.
Rohit Sharma (India)
Rohit Sharma has made quite the impact in a short span of time.
After a series of mediocre displays in the middle-order, the Mumbai man’s Test career seemed to be all but over in 2018. However, a timely promotion to open the innings last year has seen Rohit finally stamp his authority over a format which has been his Achilles heel.
The move to the opening slot in ODIs worked wonders for his career in 2013, and the same script is now being repeated in the five-day format. The right-hander was on fire in the home series against South Africa and helped himself to two tons along with a brisk double century.
Having ended the calendar year with a staggering average of over 92, plenty is expected from the India star in the future. Question marks remain though, over his overseas record which has never inspired confidence previously. He is yet to play an away Test since his promotion to opener, and only time will tell if his credentials can stand the rigors of the swinging ball in tough conditions.
Aiden Markram (South Africa)
The future looked to be extremely bright for the young South African when he debuted with a bang in 2017. Two centuries and a score of 97 in his first four innings in the format suggested that Markram was a superstar in the making.
The youngster was even touted as a future Proteas Test skipper, after being handed the temporary reigns in the ODI format as a stand-in for Faf du Plessis.
Sadly, Markram’s trajectory has been facing downward in the past two years much to the dismay of the South African faithful. He did have his moments of brilliance in 2018 and registered two tons in South Africa’s home series win over Australia.
2019 though, was a year to forget for the right-hander who had a tough time in India and Sri Lanka. After averaging as high as 95 in his maiden year at the senior level, Markram has now dropped down to 38.49 after his lean spell in recent times.
At the age of 25, there is still time for the opener to turn it around.
Dean Elgar (South Africa)
Like opening partner Markram, Dean Elgar’s average has also taken a beating of late after being at an all-time high in 2017.
Five centuries and 1,128 runs in 2017 at an average nearly 54 were phenomenal numbers from the left-hander. However, he hasn’t been able to sustain that brilliance in the past two years and has managed just two centuries in his last 42 innings for the country.
An old-school opener with a dogged approach at the crease, Delgar is at his best when the going gets tough in the middle. Unfortunately for him and Markram, the increasingly difficult batting conditions in South Africa of late are not helping their cause in the last two years.
As among the only two players in Test history to carry the bat in three different innings, Elgar’s ability to hold fort has never been in question. Whether he can get back to the heights he touched in 2017, though, is the big doubt.
An inexperienced South Africa squad desperately need him firing on all cylinders XI again as they seek to improve their declining fortunes.
Rory Burns (England)
Ever since Andrew Strauss hung up his boots, England have pined for a dependable opening partner for Alastair Cook.
Various candidates have auditioned for the role to no success, and England’s problems were only further compounded by Cook’s retirement in 2018.
Thankfully for them, Rory Burns has filled some of that void since his debut in November, 2018. The Surrey man’s unorthodox and unruly technique is very similar to that of Elgar, and he has shown some decent promise since making the step up to international cricket.
No place in the last three years has been as cruel to openers as England, though Burns has still managed to hold his own for the most part. In his 15 Test appearances so far, Burns has struck impressive tons against Australia and England while averaging a respectable 34 in his position. It now remains to be seen if he can build on this promoting start and take it up a notch.
Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka)
Since the turn of 2017, no opener has scored more runs than Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne. The left-hander has averaged more than 40 during this period in 32 Tests, and amassed nearly 2,400 runs in the process.
A solid opener with a textbook technique, Karunaratne has a knack of making it a big one once he gets settled at the crease. He has played some important match-winning knocks for Sri Lanka, including a famous 196 against Pakistan in Dubai during 2017.
Sri Lanka’s Test fortunes have been in stark contrast to their limited-overs woes, and much of it is down to the aptitude that Karunaratne has shown in his role. He didn’t exactly bring his best in 2019 and the southpaw will be determined to play the long innings once cricket resumes for Sri Lanka.
Mayank Agarwal (India)
After piling on the runs at the domestic level for Karnataka, Mayank Agarwal was finally given his chance for India in 2018. It didn’t take too long for the right-hander to show his chops at the international level as he made some important contributions in Australia.
The best was yet to come from Agarwal though, with the India opener really stepping it up in the home series against South Africa. Two double tons and a century in the whitewash over the Proteas announced his arrival on the big stage, and showed that he can be a monster run-scorer in the comfort of home conditions.
He will likely to quickly forget his recent showings in New Zealand where he failed miserably against the swinging ball. There’s no doubt Agarwal can do the business in India. It is whether he can rack up the numbers overseas will be his biggest challenge going forward.
David Warner (Australia)
Despite losing a year to suspension and having a treacherous time in the 2019 Ashes series, David Warner’s numbers remain unblemished. The Australian has been averaging more than 50 in his last 25 Test appearances and remains the gold standard of openers in the modern era.
Seven centuries have come from the left-hander’s bat since the turn of 2017, including a memorable triple ton against Pakistan in Adelaide last year. The mauling at the hands of Stuart Broad is an aberration in what has otherwise been a fantastic Test career for the 33-year-old.
A career strike-rate of over 72 is testament to Warner’s aggressive approach in the format, and he possesses the capability of turning the game in the blink of a single session.
Tom Latham (New Zealand)
Giving Warner a run for his money in the opening slot is New Zealand’s Tom Latham. The fellow left-hander was in sensational form in 2018 and 2019, conjuring up a purple patch that saw him register five tons.
While his career Test average is just a shade above 42, Latham is averaging nearly 50 for New Zealand since the turn of 2017.
Sri Lanka has borne the brunt of Latham’s prolific patch during this period, with the Kiwi racking up three mammoth tons including an unbeaten 264 against the opposition. At 28, Latham is just entering his peak years and New Zealand will hope that he can up the ante even further in the future.
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