Alastair Cook succeeding Andrew Strauss as captain marks a rare event – one half of a successful opening partnership taking over the reins from the other. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the very few examples of prolific opening partners following each other as skipper in Test cricket.
As Andrew Strauss bows out from all forms of the game, his opening partner Alastair Cook moves across to take up position at the helm of the English side.
Right now there is every reason to predict that young Cook will have a long stint as captain. And if he succeeds and survives in the role to play a long innings, Strauss and Cook will form a rather uncommon pair.
The two opened the English innings on 117 occasions, adding 4711 runs at a decent average of 40.96.
It is very rare for such long standing successful partners at the top of the order to exchange the sceptre and proceed to have successive successful stretches as skippers.
In the 135 years of cricket history, it has happened very occasionally. It is intriguing that a large proportion of such combinations have been seen in the modern English teams.
Given below is a list of successful opening partners, who have followed each other into the hot seat and have had reasonably long terms as captain.
Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry (Australia) – One of the most successful opening pairs ever, Lawry and Simpson combined to start the Australian innings on 62 occasions, managing 3596 runs together at an incredible average of 60.94. Simpson was the first to lead Australia and did so with mixed results for 29 Tests. After announcing his plans to retire, he was omitted after two successful Tests against India in 1967-68, and partner Bill Lawry stepped into the breach to lead for three years.
After Lawry’s 25 Test tenure came to an end in somewhat murky circumstances, the Chappell brothers took over. This was followed by the quake of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket – which shook Simpson awake from his post-retirement slumber, forcing him to come back and lead for 10 more Tests.
Jackie McGlew and Trevor Goddard (South Africa) – The pair of McGlew and Goddard opened 27 times, combining to score more than 1000 at the top of the order, mostly during the early days of the 14 Tests led by the former. By the time Goddard took over against Australia in 1963, they had not opened together for three years with Eddie Barlow quickly establishing himself as an opener of quality. Goddard too preferred to lower down to preserve his energies for spells of medium-pace bowling.
But once McGlew retired after the 1961-62 series against New Zealand, Goddard stepped in as captain and also moved up the order to open the innings with Barlow. Goddard led in 13 Tests.
Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton (England) – With 2501 runs added at 56.84, Gooch and Atherton formed one of the most successful opening partnerships for England. Having led the side 34 times, Gooch stood down after the fourth Test of a disastrous Ashes series of 1993. Atherton took over the reins and proceeded to have a long, if not very successful, 54-Test run as the skipper.
Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart (England) – Atherton is the only captain to have exchanged the captaincy baton with opening partners twice. His partnership at the top of the order with Stewart took place during a choppy period of English cricket, and it reflects in their figures. A total of 1930 runs at 39.38 is hardly impressive. However, when he decided to give up captaincy after the West Indian tour of 1997-98, Stewart, who had performed the role of caretaker skipper earlier, ensured a smooth transition to Nasser Hussain by leading the side creditably in two long and tough series against South Africa and Australia.
Both, however, had to return during the Hussain era from time to time to keep the show going.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu (Sri Lanka) – Combining to add 4469 runs at the top of the innings, Jayasuriya and Atapattu are by some distance the most prolific opening partners for Sri Lanka. Their collaboration started during the times of Arjuna Ranatunga, encompassed their own successive reigns as national captains and smoothly stretched into the Mahela Jayawardene period.
When Jayasuriya’s 38 Test sway ended against South Africa in 2002-3, Atapattu was quick to step in. And although the transition was helped along by a handful of Tests under Hashan Tilakaratne, Atapattu did take over as a regular captain soon to lead the side till 2006.
Mike Brearley is firmly established as the finest captain England has ever had, with 18 wins and just four losses in 31 Tests. When he was injured in 1977-78 against Pakistan, his opening partner Geoff Boycott took over and led in the remaining Test. Boycott also led in the three Test series in New Zealand that followed, during which vice-captain Bob Willis was incensed enough to instruct Ian Botham to ‘run the bugger out.’ Thankfully, Brearley recovered and was back in the saddle when the Ashes series came along. Boycott never led England again.
Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar combined to form the best opening pair of Pakistan, scoring an average of 44.65. In the late 90s, they took turns to lead the volatile, splintered and chasm-ridden cricket side several times. However, neither could really qualify as a regular captain.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)