The search for a solid opening duo continues

May 12, 2024

Pakistan have four opening batters in their squad for the Ireland and England series, which shows we are yet to decide our openers for the forthcoming T20 World Cup

The search for a solid opening duo continues

In cricket, especially in the limited overs formats, opening is considered the best position because not only do you get to bat the most overs, you also enjoy the first power-play overs.

Sanath Jayasuriya was introduced to capitalise on the advantage of first power play. Jayasuriya used to hit right from the beginning and no one used the power plays better than he did.

Opening partnership always plays a vital role in a team’s victory. If openers provide a solid foundation with a good strike rate, the middle order can post a competitive total on the board or chase any target.

But if the openers fall cheaply, the middle order batsmen have to consolidate instead of scoring runs with pace.

The role of openers in cricket cannot be overstated. They set the tone for the innings, face the new ball, and lay the foundation for the rest of the batting lineup. In recent years, many cricketing nations have benefited from having stable and consistent opening partnerships. However, Pakistan has found itself grappling with a perennial issue: the lack of regular openers.

Batting first or chasing, it often becomes difficult for the Pakistani openers to utilise the field restriction with boundaries. It creates pressure on the middle order especially when chasing a target of around 200 runs in the shortest format of the game.

Openers have been the weakest point in Pakistan’s batting line-up for a long time. The management has tried many players, but the opening slots have remained uncertain. The duo of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan was relatively successful in recent times.

The T20 World Cup is less than a month away where 20 teams will participate in the West Indies and the USA from June 2. Fifteen teams have already announced their squads but Pakistan is still in search of the right combination.

Pakistan cricket team is on the tour of Ireland and England for the T20 World Cup preparation. Four openers - Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Saim Ayub and Fakhar Zaman — are in the squad, but it is not yet final who will open.

Babazr is the most experienced player with 114 T20I matches. He scored 3,823 runs with an average of 41.1 and a strike rate of 129.41. He scored three centuries and 34 fifties.

Rizwan is behind him with 93 matches, 3,048 runs including one hundred and 26 half-centuries, averaging 49.96 and strike rate of 127.42. Fakhar Zaman is third with 1,663 runs in 83 games. His strike rate of 130.73 is better than the above two but his average of 22.78 is quite unsatisfactory. He failed to score a century in 76 innings and his highest T20I score is 91.

Saim is rated as the most aggressive Pakistani opener, but his statistics show that he has failed to deliver on the international circuit. He has played 17 T20Is for Pakistan, but managed only 219 runs, with a disappointing average of 14.6. Even his strike rate of 125.86 is the lowest among the four openers. In 15 innings, Saim has failed to score a single fifty, his highest score being 49.

Pakistan cricket team’s opening conundrum has been a constant issue, plaguing the team’s performance in international cricket.

In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind this persistent problem.

At least one opener should be aggressive. If you don’t have an attacking opener and a couple of good finishers then that is the problem of the coaching staff and the think tank.

As always Pakistan’s batting strike rate is the weakest link going into the world cup. Strike rate has always been the issue from the top 4 batsmen, who play out till 10th over and then ask the middle order to go all out. They need to get going from the first over to build pressure on the opposition.

Pakistan needs to learn the art of posting scores over 200. The formula of preserving wickets till 15 overs and scoring in the last 5 overs is not going to allow them to post huge totals.

One of the primary reasons for the inconsistency is the constant shuffling of openers. Pakistan has tried numerous combinations, with 15 different opening pairs used since 2019. This lack of stability has prevented any pair from cementing their position, denying them the opportunity to develop a partnership and understand each other’s game.

In contrast, successful teams like Australia, England, and India have stuck with their opening pairs, allowing them to build a strong rapport and dominate oppositions. Pakistan’s rotation policy has disrupted the team’s rhythm.

Pakistan’s domestic cricket structure is another significant factor contributing to the opening woes. The country’s first-class cricket system, which should be the breeding ground for top-order batsmen, is plagued by issues like poor pitches, inadequate competition, and a lack of quality fast bowlers.

As a result, batsmen are not adequately prepared for international cricket, where they face high-quality fast bowling and challenging conditions. The absence of a robust domestic system hinders the development of openers, making it difficult for them to transition smoothly to the international stage.

The coaching staff has failed to provide adequate support and guidance to the openers, leaving them to fend for themselves in challenging conditions. Effective coaching and selection are crucial in helping openers overcome their weaknesses and build confidence.

The lack of emphasis on technique and temperament in the domestic circuit has also played a role in Pakistan’s opening dilemma. While flashy stroke play may grab headlines, the ability to negotiate the new ball in challenging conditions requires a solid technique and a resilient mindset. Unfortunately, these qualities have often been overlooked in favour of short-term gains, resulting in a pool of openers ill-equipped to handle the demands of international cricket.

The PCB management must adopt a more strategic and patient approach to selection. Instead of changing openers based on short-term results, they should invest in identifying and grooming young talent with the requisite skills and temperament for the opening role. Additionally, greater emphasis should be placed on coaching and development programmes aimed at refining the technique and mindset of aspiring openers.

NOTE: All statistics are updated before the T20I series against Ireland.

The search for a solid opening duo continues