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

Red

The artist formerly known as Monk
Gooch is a personal childhood favorite of mine. Though his career average isn't very impressive, the Gooch that I saw from 1990-94 was batting at ATG levels. That Headingley hundred against WI has to be right up there along with the best innings ever.
Gooch is such an underrated batsman. In his tests against the West Indies (1980-91) he averaged 45 as an opening batsman over 26 tests against them.

Look at his record against them, it's ridiculous

Gooch vs WI

Went from attacks of Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, thru to the Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh years. Seriously underrated performer by many.
 

mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
#5: Geoffrey Boycott (188 points)



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


Boycott cracks the top 5! There was a huge gap between the top 4 and the chasing pack, but Boycott comes in as the best of the rest. Which for those playing along at home means 4 of the 5 openers ever are English.

Boycott only made 3 people's personal top 5s and never came any higher than 4th. However he did make the top 10 of 20 lists where as Barry Richards only made 17 lists total. Boycs benefitted from a lot of people(sometimes begrudgingly) acknowledging him as a great opener despite never being a real contender for the title of the greatest.

Boycott is known for a few things. He had almost impregnable defence and put a price on his wicket so high it's likely the only person who had a higher number of balls faced per innings was the Don himself. He had a few quirky personality traits as well. He missed 30 tests in his prime after he made himself unavailable for selection(he felt he had been wrongly passed over as the next captain after Ray Illingworth retired). Despite that he still notched up 108 tests, 8114 runs and 22 hundreds. At the time of his retirement the total tests was 6 shy of the world record at the time held by Colin Cowdrey. The runs scored were in fact the world record which would be passed by Gavaskar the following year. The 22 hundreds was the tied English record with Wally Hammond and Cowdrey.

Boycott's philopshy on opening was that the primary job was to make sure your team couldn't lose first. Then worry about victory. Soaking up balls and time came naturally to him and he had immense powers of concentration and self-denial. He was called selfish by a lot of pundits but the fact remains England only lost 20 of the 108 tests he played. A large part of this was due to his rock solid reliability at the top of the order. He is definitely an opener's opener and for anyone who's played cricket they can respect how hard is it to block and leave balls all day. It's a special kind of talent. He could play shots too of course. He was very selective with their usage and was said to often fail in pressing home in an advantage. After defeat had been avoided he often didn't accelerate enough to really keep the foot on the neck. But his best shots, the backfoot cover drive and the on drive were said to be an amazing sight due to their power and placement. Apparently he just should have brought them out of the kit bag more frequently.

Going purely by averages his record as an opener is top tier to the naked eye and very consistent. He averaged 48.5 at home and 47 away and ended up with an overall average of 47.7. In the Windies he averaged 51 and against them 46. Against Australia he averaged 47.5 and in Australia 45.

Let's look at his record against the Windies first. He played most of his matches against them in the '60s before they had developed their pace firepower. A lot of success came in this period and he only got 2 series against the full strength quartet in 1980 and 1981. In these 9 tests he averaged 41 with a century and 4 fifties. This was against different combinations of Marshall, Roberts, Croft, Garner and Holding and also came at the age of 40. He didn't set the world on fire but he more than held his own and did it very late into his career.

Against Australia he famously missed the 74/75 assault led by Lillee and Thommo but he still had plenty of success against them. Either Lillee or Thommo featured in the bowling attacks of 5 of the 7 ashes tons he notched up. But only in one test did he have to take on both of them together. I won't get into who dodged who or anything like that but I don't think it was a case of either party being hesitant to play the other. Injuries featured in both those bowler's careers and that's not Boycott's fault. Missing the '74/75 series doesn't look too much like him ducking them either as he had already tonned up against both of them in '71. Lilee was also returning from an injury so I'm not sure many people predicted just how lethal he was going to be in that series before it happened.

He stumbled a bit against New Zealand, averaging 38 against them from 15 tests. Funnily enough this had nothing to do with Hadlee. In the late 1960's he had 5 single digit scores across 6 innings against them. In his only 5 tests against Hadlee in '78 he hit 325 runs @ 40 with a ton and 2 fifties so we could call this encounter this a tie.

Along with being able to play pace he also had a fine record against India and the spin quartet. In India he averaged 47 and against them it shot up to 56. This included his famous 242* against them in 1967. It came in 555 balls and nearly 10 hours and resulted in Boycott being famously dropped for his perceived 'selfishness'. England actually won this match so to me it seems a very strange and unfair decision. I feel like his amazingly consistent contributions as an opener are more clear in hindsight. His actual batting style doesn't seem that much slower or selfish than Bill Lawry's and he seems to dodge all the criticism Boycott does(though at the time he copped some too). While he does his reputation no favours sometimes with his outspoken comments it's fair to say Boycott was pretty much an ATG opening batsman. If he doesn't quite qualify for that title it's only by the slightest whisker. He was a master at his own approach to the craft.
 
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ataraxia

International Debutant
it's likely the only person who had a higher number of balls faced per innings was the Don himself
According to Charles Davis, Boycott comes 13th on that list (Sutcliffe and Bradman are pretty much tied for first position).
 

Coronis

International Regular
According to Charles Davis, Boycott comes 13th on that list (Sutcliffe and Bradman are pretty much tied for first position).
Hutton ahead of Boycs too.

Anyway a big **** as we all know, but a great batsman nonetheless. Making himself unavailable after being passed over for the captaincy just seems like a little kid chucking a tantrum. Agree that he in no way deserved to be dropped after that 242*.
 

Teja.

Global Moderator
Gooch played about half the tests England played over his career.

Was he not good enough for long stretches of time or injured?
 

morgieb

Cricket Web: All-Time Legend
Gooch played about half the tests England played over his career.

Was he not good enough for long stretches of time or injured?
IIRC I think he was dropped for three years after a pair on debut and there was also the rebel tour to consider.
 

bagapath

International Captain
I will be happy if we have hutton/ gavaskar/ hobbs/ sutcliffe in that order, because in my opinion, that is the correct order.
 

mr_mister

Hall of Fame Member
#4: Herbert Sutcliffe (309 points)



Lists featured on: 26/29
Top 5 finishes: 25
Highest finish: 1st(1)

Gold: 1
Silver: 2
Bronze: 7



For the final 4 openers I will go into a little more depth with the voting stats and include their top 3 finish results. Especially because the 'highest finish' stat doesn't tell much of a story. So Sutcliffe made the top 3 in a list 10 times.

As we can see there's a huge gap in points between Boycott and the top 4. These top 4 guys are really considered in a class above on CW. Rounding out that top 4 is Herb Sutcliffe.

Statistically he's got be one of the most underrated test batsmen around. His stats are remarkable. The man averaged 60.73 and his test average never fell below 60. His raw average is not only the highest on this list other than Barry Richards, it's also the 7th highest test batting ever going by most conventional lists. When the min innings criteria is raised to merely 50 though it becomes the 3rd highest behind just Smith and Bradman.

Interestingly after 40 tests it reached as high as 69.8 before coming down a bit in his final 14. This high point was achieved in the opening test of the bodyline series in 32/33 where he hit 194, his highest ever test score and last ever test century. Batting wise the match is more known for McCabe's 187 however. This 194 was one of only 4 scores Sutcliffe hit over 150 out of 16 tons total. It's pretty damn remarkable that he managed an average of 60 without a single double century. It's a testament to how ridiculously consistent he was. Rarely would he be dismissed cheaply. 39 of his 84 test innings were 50+ scores. Only 12 times was he dismissed in the single digits. He could certainly see off the new ball like few others.

With Jack Hobbs he formed easily the most successful opening partnership ever for both country and county; they put up 15 century stands from only 39 test innings and averaged 87 together. The average is a record. The century partnerships is right on the heels of others who batted together many more times. Hobbs I think is one of the reasons he is underrated as he was a bit overshadowed by him during their career.

Sutcliffe isn't often talked about in the shortlist for best after Bradman for a few reasons. He was said to have lacked the 'polished elegance' of Hobbs. It's also speculated he may have struggled more in the modern era than Hobbs as he favoured a pad heavy defensive style that was only possible due to the LBW laws of his time. I don't know how strong these are as legitimate criticisms and some people might view them as reaching. Another thing people sometimes bring up is that he wasn't quite as good against express pace. I don't know how he did against some of the quicks on the county circuit but he didn't get much of a chance at test level to really prove or disprove this theory. From the period he played test cricket, 1924-1935, Australia only really had Jack Gregory who he seemingly dealt with easily enough. His debut ashes series in 24/25 yielded 4 centuries and 731 runs @ 81. Gregory was at the helm of Australia's bowling attack here. For the rest of his career Australia mainly played various skilled spinners. His overall average against Australia was 66.8 and in Australia 63.7. So against Grimmett and O'Reilly he was never particularly troubled.

He never scored a ton against the Windies in 5 tests who had some of the only other renowned pacemen of the era in Constantine and Martindale. But it's a tiny sample size and an average of 41 is respectable enough. In fact it's hard to find many gaps anywhere in his test record. And overall average of 64 at home and 56 away can't be criticised.

It was raised just earlier today that it's indeed Sutcliffe who is right up there with Bradman when it comes to balls faced per innings. As he averaged a good 40 run less from a similar amount of balls faced obviously he scored his runs at a far slower rate than the Don. So he was quite a defensive batsman and that lack of flash might also contribute to his reputation being that little bit worse than Hobbs. But it seems like he was the benchmark for the things an opener should be. Disciplined, patient and consistent. Him and Hobbs nearly always got their team off to solid starts. They put opposition bowlers on the backfoot and nullified the threat of a shiny new ball time and time again. Sutcliffe deserves to be known as one of the greatest openers ever.
 
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Engle

State Vice-Captain
All hail Sir Geoffrey Batsalot :) - there's something quite comical, quirky, Quixotic, colorful about him that I can't quite put my finger to it. A character that commands attention, the polar opposite to Sutcliffe who just cannot seem to get the accolades his figures so richly deserve.
 

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