Guest Piece – Philip on Opening the Batting

Chris Jordan in his temporary role as a Surrey opener. Did he have what it takes?

Philip, aka Batting With The Bola (Too long a name for the heading!), who can be found on Twitter @pgpchappers has kindly written a piece for us on what he thinks is required from an opening batsman. As usual, I’d like to express my great thanks for the time and effort put in to this post (and for Philip’s previous post on batting technique too).

Feel free to jump in, have some questions, and I’m sure Philip will answer.

Take it away maestro……

By Batting with the Bola
The England team has had many struggles working out what should be their opening pair since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Rather than say who I thought should be playing which like most people seems to be a guess, I thought I would write a few words on what I think a successful opening pair needs to do, which I hope will spark some debate. Feel free to disagree and challenge in the comments section.
I have set this up with a few headings which I have then tried to elaborate on them – clearly I won’t have thought of everything and they are in no particular order, but what I have tried to do is look beyond the obvious (with the exception of the last one). With the coaching I do I try to work on how players think about their game and read the situation rather than just focussing on technique as especially in club cricket this isn’t something that is generally worked on.
Putting pressure on the opposition bowlers
Barnes, Morris, Haynes, Greenidge, Slater, Sehwag, Hayden and Warner – all tremendous attacking opening batsman for genuinely great teams and they also set the tone for some of the greatest teams ever to play the game (I accept the mid 2000’s Indian team wasn’t as good as the Invincibles, the 80/90’s WI side or the Australian 90/00’s machine so no quibbles about the Indian team please!). All were/are horrible to bowl at, especially on the first day of a test match and all put pressure on the opening bowlers by taking them on. They were instrumental in taking their team to the top. Their value cannot be underestimated in setting the tone of an innings. As far as I am concerned not allowing the opening bowlers to settle is a key function of an opening batsman. I admit that those players I have named were (are) extraordinary and the very fact there are so few of them is relevant, although there are others you could name. 

But at any level having a player who can upset the bowlers is key. If you don’t have that then the received wisdom is to have a right hand/left hand combination or a bank foot or a front foot player as contrasting styles for your opening pair. Why have England been struggling in this department? Cook’s form has been mixed (but recently decent) and the player at the other end hasn’t known whether to stick or twist and have been bereft of confidence pretty quickly into their period as the other one to Cook. What Cook and Strauss always did really well was run between the wickets and put pressure on the opposition that way. There are many ways to skin this cat…
Regardless having a dynamic opening pair is crucial – at the moment you can’t say Cook is hugely dynamic. I sort of wonder if, given that Root won’t bat at three, perhaps Cook should, I think having two new opening batsmen would take the pressure off the new player that isn’t Cook, the problem England has at the moment.
Batting as a pair
This is a very common comment, but what does it mean – in my view it means knowing if your partner is struggling and giving them a breather, perhaps hogging the strike a little, knowing if they are flying – so giving them the strike, running well between the wickets, knowing who is the “bogey” bowler. When you are opening it does matter who takes the first ball – Which one of you will the bowler least like to start his spell against… this matters – put pressure on that opening bowler. As an experienced player you should take the first ball because your junior partner will be more nervous. It is natural. Conversely if you know that a batsman has a terrible record early on against a bowler, put him up the other end to start with! Be flexible, especially when one of the openers is the Skipper. A few years back Andrew Strauss was captain when there was a rain affected toss, had to do a few interviews then was out batting under 15 mins later. He was out first ball. In those circumstances, why didn’t Cook say: “Straussy mate – go up the other end have a breather get your head sorted, I’ve got this.”  That is what batting as a pair is.
Reading the field – what is the opposition trying to do?
As you are walking out to bat – read the field – this will tell you what the bowler and opposition skipper is trying to do – also read where your strong scoring areas are – and are they covered or clear. Classically as a batsman you are told to look where the fielders are – but it is far more helpful to look where the gaps are! 
Where the fielders are will tell you what the bowler is trying to do however – whether that is 3 slips and a 6/3 or 7/2 field for an away swinging bowler or 5/4 with 2 slips and a short leg for an inswing bowler. I wonder with all the computer analysis that is done these days whether players forget to remember that each day is different, different pitch and conditions and the bowler may be in a different rhythm.
But above all know where you like to hit the ball and know where the gaps are.
Understand the state of the game/setting up the innings/being adaptable
One of the key roles for the opening batsmen is to give confidence to the other batters and to set up the game. This isn’t always easy as you are facing the new ball with the freshest bowlers – but a few solid shots and a couple of early boundaries will make a different. A few wild shots and a play and miss however and you are causing a bit of chaos for you mates in the shed. Remember so much of batting is in the mind.
Knowing the pitch is a road also brings its own pressure – you are expected to score runs – but how often in these circumstances there is an early wicket because the batsman is so eager to cash in they haven’t played themselves in properly.
But what about Seeing off the new ball? 
I know – what would Sir Geoffrey say – you have to see off the new ball – it is harder, it bounces more, it moves in the air more. Taking your time helps the rest of the team, play with soft hands, leave the ball well etc… I paraphrase – and it would be callous to disagree with Sir Geoff – but I don’t see how that isn’t in any way compatible with what I have tried to outline though this commentary.
I hope it is helpful, I look forward to reading your thoughts…

28 thoughts on “Guest Piece – Philip on Opening the Batting

  1. sgtcookieblog Mar 5, 2016 / 12:45 pm

    England’s folly with placing all their balls in the Cook basket has, I think, contributed to the opening issues we’ve seen since Strauss retired. I was gobsmacked Lyth was facing up first in the last Ashes as I felt it sent the message to the opposition Cook was being timid. Good an opener as he’s been I wouldn’t say he should be first name on the team sheet. He allows the bowler to don a comfy pair of slippers as he knows he isn’t going to be carted around and his confidence (the bowlers) grows while more pressure is placed on the other batsman. Of course if the strongest batting line up was picked in the first place….

    Liked by 2 people

    • jennyah46 Mar 5, 2016 / 1:39 pm

      Let’s send him back to the farm then. After all, we have so many openers from which to choose. Grrr


  2. Philip Chapman Mar 5, 2016 / 2:53 pm

    This is the point the opening pair don’t seem to work well together.

    Absolutely Cook should have faced the first ball of the series.

    I do think he should be playing that isn’t the issue it is how the pair bat that I worry about.


    • jennyah46 Mar 5, 2016 / 3:15 pm

      There is no way of knowing who took the decision for Lyth to take the first ball, or why.

      Similarly, Cook could have suggested to Strauss that he take a breather down the other end and been turned down.

      These are things that we cannot know.

      As for the opening pair, if say Compton were to open with a.n. other exactly the same situation could arise.

      I would have thought that as Cook has been opening for so very long that the way he plays should be known to all. If his partners are going to get into a flux over it I doubt that they have the qualities necessary for the job.

      You might be right in thinking that a different pair might gel better but no obvious candidates leap off of the page. It would be a huge jump into the dark.


      • jennyah46 Mar 5, 2016 / 3:18 pm

        ‘Off the page’! Consider ‘off of’ to be deleted! Poor editing.


    • Rooto Mar 5, 2016 / 3:29 pm

      Nice piece. Shows how much responsibility rests on an opener’s shoulders, even without captaincy in addition. Why do we keep doing that?
      Re: Cook and Lyth. I’d like to know whether Lyth said “I prefer to take the first ball, skip”, or Cook said ” I’m sure you’ll want to take it first up, eh what?”. Be good to know, it would tell us a lot.


  3. sgtcookieblog Mar 5, 2016 / 3:22 pm

    After the 5-0, Cook could have been ‘rested’ and Carberry and Robson given a decent run. We will never know how good Carberry really is and that’s very sad for him and his supporters. Cook had the class to come back and, rejuvenated, be even better. I just think the policy of pampering him has done few favours for anyone.
    Jenny, your Tony the Tiger impression has grrrrreat potential. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keeper99 (@PaulKeeper99) Mar 5, 2016 / 6:48 pm

      I feel Carberry was hard done by too. He would have been seen as the weak link before the series (before we knew they were all weak links) yet was in there battling and making some sort of contribution in the 1st innings of the first four Tests and in five of his first seven innings. Given the circumstances and the carnage around him he was more than respectable in my view.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Benny Mar 5, 2016 / 8:47 pm

        Beautifully put


  4. jennyah46 Mar 5, 2016 / 3:44 pm

    I have to say your name would not be the first on my list for a panel of selectors! Miaow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • sgtcookieblog Mar 5, 2016 / 3:55 pm

      Te he. And yet I’m convinced my application has been viewed favourably. James Whitaker has been nervously looking over his shoulder for a while, even suffering from a “GARY BALLANCE” form of Tourette’s at one point.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Benny Mar 5, 2016 / 3:55 pm

    Interesting one. Most of the positive openers you mention had a special advantage – each knew that one of the greatest batsmen ever would be following them to the crease. Must help to relax the nerves somewhat. England’s openers have been denied that for a while.

    On another note, I always felt that Sir Geoffrey, for all his faults, gave me a sense of security walking out there, not because he’d flay the bowlers but because he’d make their job very difficult.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Philip Chapman Mar 5, 2016 / 5:25 pm

      Good point. For England when Trott, KP and Bell followed Strauss and Cook that certainly would have helped the opening batsmen relax more than knowing that if they get out early there would be a collapse

      Liked by 1 person

    • sgtcookieblog Mar 5, 2016 / 5:53 pm

      Geoffrey was in a league of his own. I don’t know if my Yorkshire upbringing (reciting the Lord Geoffrey’s prayer in assemblies, studying Boycott’s book on batting at O level literature etc) clouds my judgement but here was a man who not only gave that sense of security but also possessed all the shots in the book. That he chose to keep them buried in his nan’s rhubarb patch but for a Gillette Cup final in the mid 60’s is something that I may have understood had I been bright enough for the A level course. What a player he could have been….

      Liked by 2 people

      • oreston Mar 5, 2016 / 8:40 pm

        One of the great “what ifs” is how he would’ve fared had he made himself available for the Ashes tour in 1974-75 and faced Lillee & Thompson at their peak. Or again, how would he have coped in ’76 against Roberts, Holding et al? I gather Sir Geoffrey now has regrets about his self-imposed exile and, one way or another, these are series that could or should have defined his career as much as any of those he did play in. My best guess is that had he played for England during those years his international career would’ve probably been over by 1977.


      • Benny Mar 5, 2016 / 8:52 pm

        Ooooh Oreston, I remember Boycs facing bouncer after bouncer from Colin Croft. It impressed me


      • Escort Mar 5, 2016 / 10:35 pm

        I would say that Boycott would have survived both series with his reputation intact, he played against the West Indies in two series when almost if not over 40 and played well. Like him or not he could and very often did play fast bowling well


      • oreston Mar 7, 2016 / 3:45 am

        Oops! I do see that a reasonable person reading my comment could conclude that I was being snide about Boycott’s abilities against the highest quality fast bowling. This is not what I had in mind at all and is exactly why I shouldn’t attempt to post hurriedly from my phone. Yes he did come back strongly in 1977 (already aged 36) and had several more good seasons. The attack he faced eg in the Caribbean in 1980-81 was formidable, so it’s not as though he had it easy in his international twilight years. The point I made such a poor job of articulating was this: It’s been suggested that his confidence and possibly also his health were suffering in ’74, leading him to withdraw his services from that year’s Ashes tour. Had he instead decided to soldier on regardless in a less than optimal state, the experience of a “difficult winter” down under could’ve been disastrously negative (psychologically if not necessarily in terms of form) factoring in also his strong feelings on Mike Denness as captain which could well have been a recipe for conflict. (Later on wasn’t he similarly disappointed by Tony Grieg’s appointment?). On the other hand, had he not exiled himself during the mid-’70s perhaps he would’ve risen above the challenges (both external and self-mandated) and swept all before him. Add (let’s say) 1,500 runs for those missing years to his total in tests – assuming he’d still played on until 1982- and see where he would’ve finished. Of course we’ll never know but it’s always amusing to speculate.


  6. BoredInAustria Mar 5, 2016 / 4:13 pm

    Nice post – I enjoyed that. Thank you. Asking some good questions regarding England and ***k’s (If I may use Clive’s term!) tactical batting nous..


  7. Escort Mar 5, 2016 / 5:38 pm

    Nice article. England have for years always had at least one exceptional opening batsman, it’s a shame that our best in recent times had too retire through illness.


  8. Keeper99 (@PaulKeeper99) Mar 5, 2016 / 6:23 pm

    I think it’s interesting to consider the psychological profile of openers. While any batsman is a hair’s breadth from complete humiliation failure there is something additionally intense about opening the innings. With a new ball, fresh fast bowler, lively fielders and expectant crowds the contest is surely at its most gladiatorial.

    I think of them like goalkeepers in begin a breed apart, even if their inherent competitiveness/masochism (delete as appropriate) manifests themselves in very different ways in how they play the game.

    Far too many lefties doing it in the modern game though. Go back to wafting from number 5.


    • Benny Mar 5, 2016 / 9:02 pm

      Well observed. Mind you I’d liken goalies more to wicket keepers. If Whittaker picked England’s soccer team, you’d get a goalie who was sort of OK at stopping shots but great at goal kicks

      Liked by 2 people

  9. pktroll (@pktroll) Mar 5, 2016 / 6:31 pm

    May I be impertinent to point out that the last couple of years of Andrew Strauss’s career were hardly productive. He looked past it in the 2011 summer season where he didn’t make a ton and was a liability in Asia in early 2012 (not that he was alone there). In fact I’d argue that Strauss was nothing like as good a player after the 2009 home Ashes series when he was outstanding. However after that he struggled quite badly in South Africa and looked pretty poor at home to Pakistan.

    As we all know, England have been through a few openers since than and I’ll be damned as to where we go next. The Yorkies and other county cricket watchers reckon that Lees is a superior talent to Lyth but how this all plays out I will confess that I don’t know. I can see a makeshift option coming to the fore in India late this year. They may stick Compton up there again but I just don’t see that he has the runs in him.


    • Benny Mar 5, 2016 / 9:09 pm

      Not impertinent at all. Glad and impressed that Strauss made the decision because Miller certainly wouldn’t have. Really don’t know where we go now. Is it really too much to expect Root to go back to opening?


      • pktroll (@pktroll) Mar 6, 2016 / 11:57 am

        Part of me feels that Root should go up to no.3 as the best player in the side and that unless he does there will always be a hole there, nevermind what happens at opener. However some folk will feel that he should be left where he is at 4 given his success there. However he made the step up from 5 to 4 during the last Ashes series. It is possibly a tougher move, but he’s the only player who has the class to do it. The problem would then be who you bring in at 4?


  10. jennyah46 Mar 6, 2016 / 12:32 am

    Root is not comfortable against the new ball. They nearly ruined him.


    • Benny Mar 6, 2016 / 1:05 pm

      I know that’s the accepted view but, in the context of Philip’s thoughtful article, could it be that Root, in the handful of appearances as opener, was more uncomfortable as Cook’s partner than the position? I seem to remember that Root came to England’s notice as an opener for Yorkshire.
      Just wondering


      • jennyah46 Mar 6, 2016 / 4:27 pm

        Root’s problem is with the new ball. He has a weakness on the off side which becomes exposed. He did open for Yorkshire but the county cricket is a different kettle of fish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s