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CW decides the 32 best test* opening batsmen of all time - The countdown thread!

mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
#8: Gordon Greenidge (166 points)



Lists featured on: 23/29
Top 5 finishes: 4
Highest finish: 5th (4)


Greenidge finishes as comfortably the greatest West Indies opener. According to CW he would pair with Hunte in the 1st ATG XI while Haynes and Fredericks, two opening partners of Gordon, would open proceedings for the 2nd ATG XI.

Featuring on only 23 lists (less than both Smith and Sehwag) Gordon was overlooked by a few voters. But he's the first person to feature in more than 2 people's top 5s and ended up making it in there for people 4 times.

There's a lot to like about Gordon. His average is lower than most openers in the top 20(Grace, Trumper and Gooch the only guys in there with a lower average than 44.72) but of course this raw stat never tells the whole story.

Greenidge and his opening partner for most of his career, Desmond Haynes, were arguably the second greatest opening pair in the history of test cricket. When looking at pure aggregate numbers it's not an argument. Their 16 century stands together is the most for an opening pair, one more than Hobbs/Sutcliffe though in over 3x the amount of innings. Their total runs scored together sits at 6482 is also a record for openers and they lead Hayden/Langer who hit 6081. They were a critical component to the Windies reign of dominance. They gave their team a solid base to build large winning totals like clockwork.

Greenidge had quite a shaky start to test cricket after his initial debut set of knocks of 93 and 107 in India. It was theorised that Greenidge would struggle against the spin as he was known more for his ability against pace but he proved doubters wrong there. However, scores of 0, 0, 3 and 8 against Lillee and Thommo at the start of 75/76 series lead to him being dropped for the remainder of the series for the all-rounder Bernard Julian. Julian usually batted 7/8 so it was clearly a drastic decision and the selectors obviously lost faith in GG. Unlike in India he was expected to dominate on the hard bouncy aussie pitches due to his tremendous hooking and cutting but it was only Fredericks who managed to pull this feat off. Greenidge took this on the chin and made an effort to become a more well rounded player as he had negated defence in his early days in favour of hard hitting exclusively.

He was given another chance to prove his worth in the 'make them grovel' series in '76. Greenidge turned up to play and never looked back. He still put the bad ball away routinely but with a more complete defensive game and patience he managed to hit 592 runs @ 65.77 with 3 tons and 2 fifties, along with Fredericks who got 2 tons and Viv who famously hit 3 himself to allow the Windies top order to continuously bash and pummel the morale of the British bowlers. Viv's 829 runs is of course what most people remember about this series on the batting side and it's a huge reason why Viv is rated so highly. But Greenidge fared equally as well when you dig a bit deeper.

He hit 84 out of 182 in the first innings at Lords then 134 out of 211 on a green deck at Old Trafford. Two super important knocks where the rest of the side failed. He tonned up again in the second dig at Old Trafford and then a 3rd time in consecutive innings during the first dig at Leeds.

Greenidge loved batting in England, a traditional place of difficulty for opening batsmen due to the swinging dukes ball and tricky weather conditions. He averaged 56 from 19 tests there, including 2 double centuries in the 1st and 3rd tests of the 1984 series. The first 2 of 4 doubles total.

Against Hadlee spearheaded NZ he averaged 55, including 56 in NZ with including a double century and won that war too.

While his record in Australia was no doubt hurt a bit by the initial failures as a youngster, a mere average of 31 from 17 tests doesn't look great. But he did get revenge at home against them often. This included 226 in his penultimate test all the way in 1991 as an aging lion at his home ground of Barbados. This came against Reid, Hughes and McDermott, a more than testing challenge for a 40 year old.

Aesthetically he was amazing to watch. There was immense power and force behind his drives and pulls. He looked absolutely menacing when hitting boundaries. He was said to be most dangerous to bowlers if he was carrying an injury and limping between the wickets.
 
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stephen

Hall of Fame Member
Imagine if Greenidge had been dropped for 6 years after failing against the ATG Lillee and Thomson partnership and everyone decided that he couldn't play pace, even after he came back and dominated.
 

mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
#7: Bob Simpson (169 points)



Lists featured on: 25/29
Top 5 finishes: 3
Highest finish: 4th (1)



Bob Simpson finishes as Australia's greatest ever opening batsmen according to CW. He would have partnered Trumper in the 1st ATG XI. Morris/Hayden would make up the 2nd pairing and Lawry/Ponsford the 3rd. Simpson's high ranking may come as a tiny bit of a surprise to some as he's not often talked about in the top, top echelon of openers but I guess outside of that often discussed top tier it's a quite a close race for the chasing pack. When you scrutinise his record it's obvious he was certainly an amazing opener.

He started his career as a lower middle order bat who bowled decent if not amazing part-time leg spin. This was in 1957. He didn't get a chance to open for Australia until his 7th test in 1960 after a 2 year break out of the side. This happened to be the famous tied test between Australia and the West Indies. He scored 92 in the first innings and this remained the closest he got to a test century until his 30th test in 1964. Until this century he wasn't even a fully fledged opener; in his first 51 innings before this breakout century he only opened 32 times. Most of his success had been as an opener though and of the 15 unconverted fifties he had got to this point 10 were as an opener.

His inability to convert good starts into centuries popped up now and then in shield cricket but on the whole he had far more success making big scores there. He just couldn't quite replicate it at test level yet. He was still putting in good work as an-rounder(and a great fielder) and was rewarded with the captaincy while he still had 0 test tons to his name. He was quoted as saying: "I don't know of any player who was on the international scene as long as I without scoring a century. I was feeling a bit silly about it by this stage. He considered himself a batsman first and foremost and his 60 FC tons @ 56 suggests that too.

After he started a shield summer with 359 the wheels finally began to turn at test level. A few weeks later he became the second player after Gary Sobers to make their maiden test ton a triple century. He scored 311 and it began a few years of great success as a batsman, pairing up with Bill Lawry to make many century stands. Both Simpson and Lawry were methodical grinders who sometimes came under criticism from the press for not playing exciting cricket. But Simpson always defended his batting style. Around this time he began operating on hard discipline, putting the hook and pull shots on the shelf much like Steve Waugh decades later in an attempt to eliminate what he perceived were risks. His finest skill was said to be working the ball around into gaps for singles.

After the 311 he went on to have the finest year of his career and to that point the most runs anybody had ever scored in a calendar year. 1964 brought him a world record 1381 runs @ 60 with 3 centuries and he was now a proper test opener. He averaged over 50 for the next 3 years on the trot, including averaging 85 in 1966. From the 311 to his first retirement in 1968 he had a tremendous peak. He scored 8 tons in 23 tests and averaged 63 in this period. Of the 8 tons 5 were 150+ scores, 3 doubles and of course 1 triple. Much like Stephen Fleming years later when he reached the three figures he tried to make it count. At this stage of his career his test average was 48 and his overall average as an actual opener was a very impressive 55. He would never open again for his country so his record as an opener remains a solid one. Most of his poor performances came in the middle order at the beginning and end of his career so his overall test average of 46 doesn't tell the whole story at all.

His first retirement came right during an ascending peak and at the relatively young age of 32. He came back nearly 10 years later in the late 1970s for a brief period to play as a middle order batsman after the Kerry Packer takeover left the Australian side short of talent. He hadn't played shield cricket for years but had remained a very successful club cricket batsman. As a 40+ year old he did a commendable job initially. He scored 2 tons in a fairytale comeback series against India down at 5. But he struggled with the pace of Windies quicks away to them on tour the following year. His record took a bit of a hit right at the end due to this. Though he wanted to continue playing he was finally put out to pasture by the ACB in 1978 at 42 years of age, 21 years after making his test debut.

6 of his 10 test tons ended up being 150+ scores. 4 of his 27 unconverted fifties were 90s. His actual record was very rounded. He averaged 49 at home and 44 away. He averaged over 45 in Australia, England, India and Pakistan. In all ashes games he averaged 50. In and against South Africa it dropped a bit to around 39 but this isn't terrible for an opener.

Only in the West Indies where he averaged 35 is a glaring hole but of course this included a full series against the pace quartet as a 42 year old. As a youngster he could handle pace a lot better. Against Wes Hall in the 60/61 home series he performed quite well, scoring a couple of 90s and an 85(though of course not tonning up).

It's an interesting story and his career had 3 easily defined parts to it.

*A jack of all trades for his 30 tests who's fielding and leg spin was about as effective as his batting. He batted everywhere from opener to number 8 but when opening showed glimpses of what was to come.

*Then of course for a few years he was a top class specialist opener and captain, leading from the front and breaking some records along the way with Bill Lawry.

*And lastly as the grizzled middle order batting vet having one last rise and fall.
 
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stephen

Hall of Fame Member
the complaint about Greenidge too high is amusing when the next bloke is someone who wasn't even an opener for two thirds of his career
He opened for 2/3 of his test career - 41 tests out of 62. Much like Langer would be remembered as an opener despite not batting there for the first half of his career.
 
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mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
Of those 21 tests he spent in the middle order about 10 came in the first bit of his career and 10 at the end.

So he was a middle order bat in the '50s and '70s and an opener in the '60s. It's a bit different to Langer and kinda unique I think but yes all things considered 70 of his 111 innings were as an opener so he was an opener.
 

Burgey

Request Your Custom Title Now!
He tops him on that front. but it's very near thing.

Nice work on these write ups, MM
 

Magrat Garlick

Global Moderator
He opened for 2/3 of his test career - 41 tests out of 62. Much like Langer would be remembered as an opener despite not batting there for the first half of his career.
this is fair, I read too quickly about first half of his career being "a makeshift batsman who kept being shuffled around"
 

mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
First, a disclaimer. Copied from my OP:

Now, before the point is raised later by someone, this list could potentially cause controversy. I asked for people to nominate their best test batsmen and quite a few people took that to mean they could encompass all FC records while some people outright stated they were only including test achievements. In some of my previous lists I said to take on board as much FC weighting as you deem necessary, this time I didn't make that clear which is my mistake. So this list might not be a perfect representation of CW's opinion.

So there are players on this list who didn't play many tests, but enough people thought that was due to reasons out of their control and that they were still higher quality batsmen then some who played many tests. It is what it is. Some people value quality heavily over quantity, some value longevity heavily over averages, we can't get things perfect.



#6: Barry Richards (171 points)


Lists featured on: 17/29
Top 5 finishes: 11
Highest finish: 2nd (1)


A possible controversary here. Barry featured on only 17 lists which was less lists than everyone all the way back to Arthur Morris in 13th spot. But most of those who deemed him worthy enough to be eligible also deemed him exceptional and he made the top 5 of 11 lists. This is far more than the bloke who came 5th(no big shock I guess who that will be now).

Barry of course is here mainly for his FC achievements as he only got to play 4 tests. But in those few tests he played he did make a huge splash. He scored 2 tons and 2 fifties and averaged 72 against Australia in 1970 in a successful campaign. It was an Australia without some of the megastars that would emerge within a few years like Lillee and Thommo. But Garth McKenzie was still a solid talent and a decent challenge that Barry easily overcame.

As we all know South Africa entered a period of test cricket isolation soon after this. Due to politics they didn't play another test series after this one until the 1990s long after Richards had retired. When we think about Richards, Pollock, Rice and Procter the world was really robbed of many potentially amazing and more importantly full test careers.

Barry has still captured the imagination and respect of many pundits though. Let's discuss the super tests. Whether or not you think they deserve test status they were clearly played very competitively featuring ATG bowlers a plenty. I believe they initially counted as legitimate tests too and were only later downgraded. Barry matched his legitimate test form and from 5 supertests hit 2 more tons and averaged 79.14, the highest average of any batsman who featured in them. Against an attack of Lillee, Gilmour and Walker he hit a double century which was the highlight of his supertest career.

If we include them as tests for the sake of the argument we still have a very incomplete picture. But 4 centuries in 9 tests @ an average of 75.8 does look amazing. Of course even these numbers have been achieved by plenty of players across a 9 test period but it's all evidence pointing to the fact that Richards likely would have had an ATG test career.

His FC average of 54.74 is very high for an opener. Some of his best FC achievements include scoring a ton before lunch 9 times. In his highest score of 356, 325 came in one day against an attack of Lillee, McKenzie and Tony Lock.

It was at the time the record for the most runs scored in one day in an FC match, besting Bradman. Brian Lara would hit 390 in one day on his way to 501 some 20 years later to break it but against far worse bowlers.

For an opener he seemed ahead of his time with his scoring rate. Some of the biggest names just a few years prior in Simpson, Lawry and Boycott scored their runs at a far slower rate but at a similar average in FC cricket.

We'll never know for sure how much he could have achieved in tests. But many people think it's a guarantee he would have had an ATG test career. Bradman thought so and paired him alongside Morris in an ATG XI. The fact Barry had so much of his success in and against Australia probably impressed the Don quite a bit.
 
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