A gradual but inevitable descent into cricket-based loathing and bile.

Stepping Up To Open Up

Posted on April 29, 2015 by in Opinion, Scorer's Notes, Tests


Some might say that taking an opening batsman on tour and asking him to sit on the sidelines while a middle order batsman returning to the international scene takes his place is a bloody stupid thing to do. Even more so when it’s to partner a captain under intense scrutiny, high pressure and who hasn’t hasn’t reached three figures for longer than we care to recall. Such is the ridiculousness of this situation, we would go so far as to describe it as quintessentially English. Now that’s a criticism for you.

For some observers, the opener’s role is so specialist that it’s nothing short of farcical that Jonathan Trott should be shoehorned there. For others, his previous pedigree combined with the resilience that he showed in the first four years of his Test career means that he’s a perfectly sensible solution to an ongoing problem. Based on the evidence of the first two Tests, we know which prediction is looking more accurate.


The Jonathan Trott chop-on: the most electrifying move in sports entertainment.

This particular shambles got us thinking: have any players ever truly succeeded in Test cricket both as opener and at number three?

To start, we set a threshold of 20 innings in each role. That’s enough to have performed there on a regular basis, and across a minimum of three series. It also gives a sample of just 18 players, surprisingly few given the long history of Test cricket and England’s habit of shuffling the batting order at the merest whiff of a whim. Even before we look at the numbers, this made us think that actually, this sort of thing just doesn’t happen very often. There’s probably a pretty good reason for that.

NameInnings as OpenerAverageInnings at 3AverageDifference in Average
Majid Khan4942.332138.853.38
J Edrich8244.5438386.54
E Rowan2950.002135.0015
B Mitchell4856.902339.0917.81


Hopefully someone who didn’t quit A-level Maths as soon as the going got tough can do a Chi-squared analysis of this and tell us what it all means, apart from David Boon and Alec Stewart both being awesome and Marc Butcher a bit less so. In fact, a lot less so.

We also looked at the players who had batted at least ten times at three and had the best averages (a list that Trott comes in at 55 on, sandwiched between Jacques Rudolph and Darren Bravo). The following shows the leading 20, and gives the number of times that they opened:-

  1. Bradman (0)
  2. Barrington (4 innings, average of 67.33)
  3. Hammond (5, 78.75)
  4. Sobers (8, 36.87)
  5. Headley (0)
  6. Kirsten (149, 41.80)
  7. Ballance (0)
  8. McCabe (0)
  9. Kambli (0)
  10. Manjrekar. V (0)
  11. Paynter (2, 1.50)
  12. Sangakkara (9, 33.86)
  13. Richards. IVA (4, 69.75)
  14. Lara (2, 55.50)
  15. Macartney (9, 35.50)
  16. Kallicharran (1, 7.00)
  17. Leyland (4, 16.50)
  18. Amla (2, 52.50)
  19. Tyldesley (0)
  20. Ponting (0)

So as only two players (Boon and Langer) have batted at least 50 innings both as opener and at 3, and the very best players at first-drop have rarely opened – whether out of choice, ability or selection policy -it does seem as if there has always been a distinction between the two roles. Boon’s career was interesting: originally batting at five, six and on one particularly momentous occasion seven, after a year in the side he was pushed up to three and then, against India in 1985 he replaced Robbie Kerr (no idea) and became an opener. He stayed there for the next three years, before Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor became the established opening pair, with the great moustachioed one reverting to first drop. In 1992/93 he returned to open instead of Marsh, but the success of Michael Slater soon saw him back at three. All this while fielding at short leg with a Victoria Bitter in his hand.


Using VB to wash a slug off your upper lip remains an Australian tradition to this day.

Meanwhile Langer spent much of the 90s on the sidelines behind the likes of Taylor, Slater, Blewett, Boon and Hayden in the queue for the top order. When he first became a regular pick, he was at three, until New Zealand came touring in 2001 and he opened with Hayden, never again to drop down to the purgatory of the middle order and sitting around with his pads on for hours waiting for someone to balls up and give him a go.

So there we are: there are basically only two players to have made a proper go of opening and batting at three in more than a hundred years of Test cricket. You don’t need to have actually turned up for A-level Maths to know that that’s not many. Of course, like all good stories, there’s a twist in the tale: with a threshold of ten innings, the only player to be in the top 50 averages both as opener and at three is one AN Cook, which goes to show that maybe he’s not quite as bad as we’ve been making out. Although being at the other end to Jonathan Trott is enough to make anyone look good at the moment.



Post a Comment


James Hunt

03 May 2015 15:40

Robson to open. Trott to trot along.


Richard Gardham

30 Apr 2015 13:02

The thing is, if this was the 2011 Jonathan Trott being moved to an opener, averaging 50, looking unflustered by everything and anything, knowing his game better than any England batsman since Gooch, I’d have very few problems with the decision. An in-form, established number three moving up to open isn’t ideal, but it’s acceptable.

This is, however, a Jonathan Trott who’s been out of the team for over a year, after having on-pitch and off-pitch problems that we’re all aware of. Bringing him back into an openers’ position is just plain wrong, particularly when there’s another opener in the party who started the season by scoring a century agains the MCC. If they knew they were going to play Trott – which it seems they did – then why not take Taylor or Vince to the West Indies instead of Lyth?

I’m almost – and I stress almost – wondering if the then-strange looking decision to bat with Ballance at three at the start of last summer was made with an eye to getting Trott back in the team easily. “Just stick that chubby-looking lad who looked dodgy against the Aussies and who never bats above five for Yorkshire in there. He’ll fail and it’ll make it easier to get Trotty back in”. That sort of thing.

Obviously that never happened, but this England set-up seems terrified of making big decisions based on anything other than players looking out of windows in team meetings. Trott should be competing with Ballance, Bell or Root for a position in the team. However, as we know, there is no competition there at the moment.


Tony Bennett

29 Apr 2015 10:51

Very interesting analysis. I’ve been waiting for someone to do something like this.

Looking at the England players in the list (Stewart, Cowdrey, Vaughan, Tavare, Edrich, Butcher) from memory I’d say only three of them were regular openers for their county – Vaughan, Edrich and Butcher. Their appearance at 3 for England was mainly the result of a strong pair of openers being available, although Vaughan also didn’t like opening when he was captain. The other three – Stewart, Cowdrey and Tavare – tended to bat at 3 for their county, and Stewart sometimes lower. The fact that they could succeed as Test openers may simply be because they were good enough.

My issue with Trott in his 2nd incarnation as an England player is that, actually, he may just not be good enough now, opening or otherwise. He could be at 3 or somewhere else and he probably wouldn’t do well. I was interested to hear Boycott claim on TMS that Ballance could do well as an opener. Whether we will see that is another thing.



29 Apr 2015 10:45

Interactive articles on 51allout? What a time to be alive.