Looking back on England’s best-ever opening pairs
The series between England and New Zealand has been an educational one, especially as far as the England team is concerned. We’ve learned that test cricket under the Stokes captaincy will never be boring. We’ve learned that Stuart Broad still has that magical X-factor that can turn a game on its head in the time it takes you to visit the bathroom. We’ve learned that Ben Foakes should be behind the stumps for the foreseeable future.
We’ve also learned that England still have a critical weakness, and that is in the opening batsmen. Lees looks the part and Crawley is a proven talent, but together - in their six opening partnerships in this series, they have put on 50 only once, and have been parted for less than 20 four times. That’s not going to strike fear into the Australians next year, and it’s something that England need to fix. It's a challenge the team has faced and overcome many times before, so here, we take inspiration from the past by looking back on some of the best England opening partnerships we’ve seen in the past 30 years. If you had a time machine, which pair would you go and fetch for the 2023 Ashes?
Gooch and Atherton
Graham Gooch was simply the most destructive batsman of his era, And what an era it was, he continued to pummel county attacks well into his 40s long after retiring from international duty. The problem was, he made other perfectly capable openers look ordinary by comparison. He finally met his match when Mike Atherton joined him at the top of the order in 1990. Over the next five years, the pair opened up together 44 times, with an average partnership of 56.8
Atherton and Stewart
Flinty-eyed, solid in defence. Atherton’s batting was a fabulous source of material for test match bingo phrases. When Gooch finally bowed out of test cricket, England found themselves once again with one half of a great opening partnership in Michael Atherton. Alec Stewart’s swashbuckling style was something quite new and while the pair could not have been more different, they complemented one another perfectly. They opened 50 test innings together, including six opening stands of 100 or more.
Strauss and Trescothick
People tend to forget what a fine batsman Andrew Strauss was. When he made his England debut in 2004, he was happy to play the Atherton role to Trescothick’s Stewart. Of course, the highlight of their two year tenure at the top of the order was the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series, and in all they opened together 52 times, averaging more than 50 per innings.
Strauss and Cook
Alastair Cook brings us full circle. Graham Gooch’s Essex protege became the highest scoring batsman in the sport’s history. Style-wise, he was definitely more in the Mike Atherton mould, happy to build an innings and bat all day. Strauss stepped up and adopted a more attacking style, and the pair formed England’s most prolific opening partnership in test history, putting on more than 4,700 runs in 117 opening stands.