- The Numbers Game
Cook-Strauss, and other durable openers
Only three other opening pairs have achieved the mark that Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss reached when they opened the batting in the first innings of the Abu Dhabi Test. The England pair haven't been opening the batting for as long as Greenidge-Haynes, Jayasuriya-Atapattu or Hayden-Langer, but despite being an opening combination for less than six years, they have already reached the 100-innings mark. That's a function of the amount of Test cricket that England play, but it also shows that they have been a pretty reliable pair at the top of the order - no other opening pair from England have been together for as many innings.
The fact that only three opening combinations have played together for more than 100 innings out of the 1312 pairs that have opened the batting in Test cricket (a percentage of 0.23) shows how difficult a feat this is. Cook and Strauss have had their ups and downs since they began opening the batting: in the 19 series in which they have batted together before the ongoing one against Pakistan, they have both averaged more than 40 in only four series (including one against Bangladesh). (Click here for Strauss' series-wise averages during this period, and here for Cook's.) Strauss had a terrible time in the Ashes in 2006-07, and then in series against West Indies (2007), South Africa (2008), Pakistan (2010) and Sri Lanka in 2011, when he scored 27 in four innings. Cook struggled too in the Ashes in 2006-07 (average 27.60) and 2009 (average 24.66), as also against Pakistan in 2010, but despite some hiccups, mostly one opener has covered for the other: only in three series have both Cook and Strauss averaged less than 40.
The table below looks at the opening pairs who have batted together in at least 75 innings at the top of the order. Only six pairs make the cut, and in terms of averages, three - Hayden-Langer, Slater-Taylor and Gambhir-Sehwag - have 50-plus averages. Cook-Strauss have a lower average, but they have done a pretty good job of occupying the crease: the average balls per dismissal for their partnership is 81, which means they bat, on average, for 13.3 overs, which is usually about an hour in a Test match (especially when new-ball bowlers are bowling early in the innings). Gambhir-Sehwag average 53.58, but their quicker rate of scoring also means they get those runs in 69 balls (11.3 overs).
|Pair||Innings||Runs||P'ship average||100/ 50 stands|
|Gordon Greenidge/ Desmond Haynes||148||6482||47.31||16/ 26|
|Marvan Atapattu/ Sanath Jayasuriya||118||4469||40.26||9/ 24|
|Matthew Hayden/ Justin Langer||113||5655||51.88||14/ 24|
|Alastair Cook/ Andrew Strauss||99||4190||42.75||11/ 16|
|Michael Slater/ Mark Taylor||78||3887||51.14||10/ 16|
|Gautam Gambhir/ Virender Sehwag||77||3965||53.58||10/ 23|
The Gambhir-Sehwag pair has the highest average among the list above, but that's also a function of the conditions in which they have played most of their games. Of the 77 times when they have opened the batting, 56 have been in the Asian subcontinent, and in those outings, Gambhir and Sehwag have been outstanding, averaging 60.64 per partnership, with nine century stands and 20 half-century ones. In fact, no opening pair has scored as many partnership runs in Asia as the 3275 that Gambhir and Sehwag have added.
However, outside the subcontinent they are a considerably lesser force: in Name18 innings outside Asia (excluding Zimbabwe), they have only averaged 28.22. Their only century stand in those 18 innings was in Centurion in 2010, when they added 137 in the second innings. Since that stand, though, their opening acts outside Asia read thus: 19, 27, 8, 3, 22, 17, 0, 18, 4, 24, 26 - 168 runs in 11 innings at 15.27, with a highest stand of 27.
The table below lists the opening pairs from the subcontinent who have scored more than 500 partnership runs outside Asia, and most of them have better numbers than Gambhir-Sehwag. Gavaskar and Chauhan, for instance, averaged 47.92, with four century stands in 25 innings. The stats for Bangladesh's Imrul Kayes and Tamim Iqbal are even better: they average 53.50 in 14 innings outside Asia; in their last six such stands they have notched up the following partnerships: 79 and 35 (Hamilton), 88 and 185 (Lord's), 126 and 2 (Old Trafford). Bangladesh have struggled in most aspects of their game in Test cricket, but their opening batting has been one of their huge redeeming features.
Among the 12 opening pairs in the list below, Pakistan's Mudassar-Mohsin partnership is the only one with an average below that of Gambhir-Sehwag.
|Pair||Innings||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 p'ships|
|Sunil Gavaskar/ Chetan Chauhan||25||1198||47.92||4/ 3|
|Imran Farhat/ Salman Butt||24||855||35.62||2/ 5|
|Marvan Atapattu/ Sanath Jayasuriya||28||779||31.16||1/ 4|
|Imrul Kayes/ Tamim Iqbal||14||749||53.50||2/ 3|
|Majid Khan/ Sadiq Mohammad||18||728||45.50||2/ 5|
|Wasim Jaffer/ Virender Sehwag||18||643||35.72||2/ 4|
|Mohsin Khan/ Mudassar Nazar||22||607||27.59||0/ 6|
|Vijay Merchant/ Mushtaq Ali||7||584||83.42||2/ 3|
|Sunil Gavaskar/ Kris Srikkanth||10||565||56.50||1/ 4|
|Aamer Sohail/ Rameez Raja||19||525||30.88||2/ 1|
|Aamer Sohail/ Saeed Anwar||14||512||36.57||3/ 0|
|Gautam Gambhir/ Virender Sehwag||18||508||28.22||1/ 1|
Coming back to Cook and Strauss, they have done reasonably well in most of the countries they have played in. Asia has been a bit of a problem - they average 36.36 in 11 innings - while in South Africa they average 30 in seven innings. However, they have managed a century stand in each of those countries/ continents. In Australia they had plenty of problems in 2006-07, scoring 270 runs in ten innings, but they did much better in 2010-11, putting together 549 runs in just seven innings.
|Country/ Continent||Innings||Runs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|West Indies||9||531||66.37||2/ 1|
|South Africa||7||210||30.00||1/ 1|
Cook and Strauss have scored the most runs of any opening pair in England, but there are several other pairs who have had higher averages. The Hobbs-Sutcliffe combination is beyond compare, but even other pairs - incuding Strauss-Trescothick, Atherton-Gooch and Trescothick-Vaughan - have been far more productive per innings.
The surprise, though, is the pair right at the bottom of this list. Graham Gooch and Geoff Boycott were both fantastic openers, yet on the 23 occasions when they opened the batting in Tests in England, they averaged a mere 28.36 per partnership. Much of the reason for that, though, was the fact that 20 of those 23 partnerships were against the might of West Indies and Australia.
Here's a look at how three of the other pairs have fared in different conditions. The two Australian pairs have done fairly well in most of the regions across the world, but the Greenidge-Haynes combination have a huge home bias: in the West Indies, they have averaged more than 65, but in Asia their average stand drops to 28.65. In fact, their numbers are very similar to those of Gambhir-Sehwag in the subcontinent and outside. Greenidge and Haynes haven't done too well in Australia either, averaging 34 in 28 outings. In 54 innings in Australia and the subcontinent, the Greenidge-Haynes pair had only two century stands; in contrast, they had ten such partnerships in 63 stands at home.
|Region||Slater-Taylor:Inngs/ Ave||Hayden-Langer:Inngs/ Ave||Greenidge-Haynes:Inngs/Ave|
|Asia||18/ 37.27||18/ 39.66||26/ 28.65|
|Australia||39/ 57.71||61/ 56.06||28/ 34.00|
|England||10/ 67.60||11/ 60.00||19/ 37.42|
|New Zealand||-||5/ 36.20||12/ 52.18|
|South Africa||4/ 33.00||10/ 41.22||-|
|West Indies||7/ 35.83||8/ 60.87||63/ 65.44|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter