One week into the Indian Premier League 2016, it would appear it’s the Year of the Opening Batsman.
In nine out of 12 games so far, the openers on the winning team have scored at least 50% of the total. In the remaining three games, when one of the openers was out for zero and the No. 3 batsman became the de facto opener, the “openers” have scored at least 58% of the total.
Among those doing the biggest chunk of the scoring are Kolkata Knight Riders’ Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa—IPL’s second-most successful opening pair after Chennai Super Kings’ Michael Hussey and M. Vijay—who hit 88% of the runs in their opening game against Delhi Daredevils.
David Warner, who blasted 90 out of 59 balls against Mumbai Indians on Saturday to give Sunrisers Hyderabad their first win of the season, felt that openers are primed to succeed in the Twenty20 format because of the time factor.
“As an opening batsman, we have 120 balls,” said the Hyderabad captain. “So for me when I’m batting, I know if I can face half of those deliveries as an opening batsman, I’m doing my job for the team.
“The crucial thing is to get off to a good start. When you’ve got a balanced team you can play your way at the top of the order and you have your team in a way where you can have your bankers in the middle to obviously have one player to see you through.”
Warner, therefore, wasn’t too fussed about Hyderabad’s lack of big hitters lower down the order. “The top four is where the runs come from,” he stated. “No. 5, 6, 7, you should not worry about them. If we expose them early, of course you’re not going to be able to clear the ropes. But the top four is where the bulk of the runs come and I guarantee you No. 5, 6, 7, 8 will do their job.”
Another trend that has emerged this IPL is the role of finishers. When we think of the term, it’s taken as granted to mean a lower-order batsman. But as Gambhir said at a conclave a month ago, that doesn’t necessarily have to be so; even an opener can take the responsibility of seeing the game through.
Carrying the bat through a completed innings has happened 62 times in the history of international cricket (50 times in Tests, nine times in One-Day Internationals and three times in T20 Internationals), suggesting it is a rather rare occurrence, but it’s already happened seven times this IPL with half of the season not yet over. Interestingly, all seven instances occurred while chasing and it required some maturity on the batsman’s part.
When Shikhar Dhawan fell in the first over on Monday, the 20,000-odd fans that turned up at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium and those watching on television didn’t witness the typical devil-may-care knock from Warner. He uncorked the sixes towards the end but, during overs 5 to 12, was content to go at a strike-rate of 100 or thereabout.
“When you’re out there and you don’t lose a wicket in the first six overs, which is ideal, when you have a partnership, one batsman will always keep [the scoreboard] going,” explained Warner. “Then when someone gets out, you always have to say to yourself that I’ll be the one to bat deep. The next batsman coming in should be very busy without being silly. But they will be silly and you [have to] control the innings from where you are.
“That’s how I feel we should be as a batting unit because you want to bat deep and you want to have a set batsman if not two come the last five overs; that’s where big runs can be scored.”
Eoin Morgan echoed Warner’s sentiment after the game. “I think any successful campaign always has big contributions from the top order, whether it’s the top two, three or four. The majority of the time that you have a successful campaign or go on to win a tournament, they contribute quite a lot.”
Fear not dear fans, this doesn’t mean the Brathwaites and the Russells will be reduced to spectators for the entire duration of IPL. They’ll have time to strut their stuff soon enough. For now, though, it’s time to toast to the ever-faithful Opening Batsman.
Nisha Shetty is Senior Sub-Editor at Wisden India. Mint is in a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.