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The opening conundrum in Test cricket

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Opening_problems_Test_CricketThe success of a Test side often depends on the team’s opening partnership. The openers lay the foundation on which the team can stack up runs. We have seen some legendary opening partnerships in the past, like Greenidge-Haynes for the West Indies and Lawry-Simpson for Australia, and modern day opening pairs, like Gibbs-Smith for South Africa and Sehwag-Gambhir for India.

However, today, not many teams have the luxury of a set of openers who are consistent. Let's have a look at the teams which are facing the opening crisis.

England

England has been a force in Test cricket since 2015 and has performed well in their own backyard. But, barring Alastair Cook, none of the other openers have been able to cement their spot. Alastair Cook has had 12 different opening partners in the last four years and it has changed for almost every consecutive series.

The recently concluded Test series against West Indies saw a new opener, Mark Stoneman, who looked rusty and managed to score a solitary half-century in his five innings. England's most successful opening pair in terms of runs is Cook-Hales, who have shared the opening stand for 20 innings and scored 684 runs. There have been just 7 century partnerships by the opening pair in the past 4 years. A worrying sign for England, indeed.

Australia

Australia has had 12 different opening pairs in Test cricket since 2013, with David Warner a part of 9. Australia looked settled with two southpaws, Rogers and Warner, opening the innings and ticking just about perfectly, with the former being defensive and the latter an all-out attacker. But since Rogers' retirement in 2015, Australia has found it tough to field a proper set of openers.

Burns and Warner were destined to be the next prospect for the Aussies, but the former had a few injury issues, which developed into a dip in form. Like their fierce rivals, England, Australia’s opening pairs have managed to put up more than 100 runs for the first wicket on just 6 occasions after the retirement of Rogers. Warner and Rogers shared 9 century partnerships and 2053 runs in 41 innings.

New Zealand

The dark horses of International Cricket, the Kiwis have performed well abroad and never go down without giving a fight. Though they have had just six different opening pairs since 2013, this is due to the fact that the Kiwis haven't played many Tests when compared to the other teams.

Tom Latham has been a part of the Blackcaps outfit for a while. Guptill and Latham are the most successful opening pair for the Kiwis with 3-century partnerships and 1207 runs at an average of 40.23. But the right-handed Guptill has been vastly inconsistent in the longest format of the game and played his last Test a year ago. Raval and Latham are the current openers for New Zealand, who last played a Test five months ago. The pair has aggregated 353 runs in 12 innings. It is early days yet, and Williamson will be hoping this partnership will blossom.

South Africa

Ever since the retirement of their iconic captain, Graeme Smith, South Africa has struggled to field a proper set of openers. The Proteas even had Philander opening the side on one occasion. De Kock has been prolific, opening for South Africa in the shorter formats of the game, but hasn't been able to convert the same form into Tests. Elgar has been the solid opener for the side, and has had three different opening partners just in 2017.

Stephen Cook, who scored a century on debut, hasn't been able to replicate his performance and was dropped. Elgar and Heino Kuhn opened for the Proteas in the recently concluded Test series against England and their record has been disappointing, with the pair's highest score a mere 21. Aiden Markram has looked good against Bangladesh, but it remains to be seen how he will perform against stronger sides. The side has been inconsistent on many other fronts, due to administration issues and injuries to main players. Faf du Plessis will be hoping to find a suitable partner for Elgar.

Sri Lanka

The islanders have seen a huge dip in form in all the formats of the game, suffering defeat after defeat, most recently suffering a whitewash against India in their own backyard. It will take some time for them to get back on their feet. Karunaratne has been their best opener and has been able to stitch together partnerships, but he hasn't been provided with an ideal partner.

Kaushal Silva and Karunaratne have been prolific for Sri Lanka, aggregating 1600 runs, including 4 century stands. But recently, both of them have had a dip in form as well. Tharanga has been another choice, but the left-hander has been plagued by injuries and hasn't shown as much promise in the longer format of the game. Their spin contingent is probably the only positive for Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh

Tamim Iqbal has long been there for Bangladesh as their talisman. The southpaw has shown brilliance in the few successes Bangladesh has had and he has been able to stitch together partnerships with the likes of Imrul Kayes and Soumya Sarkar. Tamim and Kayes have been the most successful pair for Bangladesh in the last 3 years with 2 century stands between them. But Sarkar was deployed as the opener in the series against Australia, with Kayes coming in at Number 3. With Bangladesh playing a limited number of Tests, Rahim couldn't have asked for a better set of openers at the moment.

West Indies

The team from Caribbean has had 10 different opening pairs in the past 4 years. Just like South Africa, West Indies have had problems with their board and there has been a constant shuffle. The current pair of Brathwaite and Powell have already been the on-off opening pair for the West Indies since 2013 but have a very low average of 17. Gayle, who hasn't been a part of the Test outfit for a long time has done well in the longer format, partnering well with Brathwaite, scoring 314 runs in just 6 innings.

30-year old Leon Johnson has also been quite successful for the two-time T20 World Champions. Their recent victory against England has to be attributed towards Brathwaite's and Hope's heroics. Finding the right partner for him will remain key.

Pakistan

Winners of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan is another side with an opening crisis. They have tried out 13 different pairs of openers recently and the last successful pair was Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam, who made a staggering 658 runs in just 16 innings. But the 21-year old Aslam had to make way, following a string of low scores.

Azhar has been a prominent player for Pakistan and will be on the lookout for a partner. His last opening partner was Shan Masood, who is on the verge of facing the axe after having failed to score a half-century in his last 7 innings.

India

Probably the only team with an abundant number of openers to choose from. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have been sublime for the top Test team. Their record in the sub-continent has been excellent. They have accumulated 1124 runs in 33 innings, including a 283-run stand against Bangladesh.

India has four openers battling it out for two spots: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Abhinav Mukund. With Gautam Gambhir on the sidelines, there is still more choice for Virat Kohli, who couldn't have asked for a better set of openers at the moment.

Each and every country has at least one prominent opener, but haven't found another promising talent to support him. Teams like England, Australia, and South Africa have to solve the issue as soon as possible if they want the advantage against high-quality opposition.

 

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