A look at the numbers behind England’s opening partnerships

By Sports Desk May 30, 2023

England go into an eagerly anticipated summer of Test cricket hoping Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley have finally solved their long-standing problems at the top of the order.

Duckett’s average of 56.44 is by far the highest of any England opener since Sir Alastair Cook’s retirement nearly five years ago, while his strike rate of 95.49 is arguably of even greater importance in the Brendon McCullum/Ben Stokes era.

He and Crawley average over 48 as a partnership, albeit in just five matches to date, and here the PA news agency looks at their record in contrast to what has gone before.

Immediate impact

Crawley and Duckett’s first innings together set the bar high as they put on 233 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi in December.

Those runs came in just 35.4 overs at a rate of 6.7 per over as both men scored centuries – as did Ollie Pope and Harry Brook, all at over a run a ball apart from Duckett’s 107 from 110 balls.

It would be asking a lot for their partnership to live up to those heights since, and Duckett was dismissed first ball in the second innings, but in two of the four Tests since they have a fifty partnership to their name – 87 in Karachi and 52 against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui.

Even their 38 in Multan and 39 in Wellington would be an improvement on England’s average opening partnership of 28.40 since Cook retired, while their strike rate has settled at a still-impressive 5.70 per over.

The last five years

Duckett is the 12th opener used by England in 56 Tests since Cook’s departure, with only five of those even averaging over 30.

His average is almost 10 runs clear of the field, though second is regular tail-ender Jack Leach whose 46.50 comes from scores of 92 and one in two innings as a nightwatchman. Captain Ben Stokes has no average as an opener, having scored 78 not out from 57 balls in his only innings.

Keaton Jennings, Joe Denly and Rory Burns average narrowly over 30 while Crawley is at 25.19, which also ranks him behind Dom Sibley. His strike rate of 57.90, while pedestrian by England’s new standard, ranks third in that time and rises to 83.47 in innings partnering Duckett.

Haseeb Hameed limped to an average of 19.18 and a strike rate of 30.80, Alex Lees was not much better at 23.84 and 43.06, Jason Roy made only 62 runs in seven innings and Jos Buttler was promoted once as a pinch-hitter but failed to score.

The only other post-Cook pairings to average even 30 are Burns’ partnerships with Hameed (39.14) and Crawley (35.00).

Long-term trend

The issue has existed even since the departure of Cook’s predecessor as captain, Sir Andrew Strauss, back in August 2012.

Cook averaged 42.52 from 144 innings in that time but only three other openers hit the 40 mark.

Encouragingly, one of those is Duckett with 46.15 for his full 14 innings as an international opener. His strike rate across that whole period sits at 89.55.

Joe Root spent 11 innings at the top of the order and while his average of 41.70 was more than creditable, it was well down on his overall Test average of 50.22. Leach is the third name on the list, in the two aforementioned innings.

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    “We’ve given Jason the option of being involved and he still has the option,” said Wright.

    “He wasn’t expecting to be in that Ireland squad and then to get the news that he was missing out on the World Cup all came as a bit of a hammer blow. So we’ve left that with him. The first game at Headingley has come too soon but there is still the option of those last two games. We’ve made it apparent to Jason that we won’t judge him differently for that position as the spare batter at the top of the order whether he plays against Ireland or not. We’ll work on that one over the next few days.”

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    The situation is reminiscent of the decision made four years earlier, when David Willey was ousted from the preliminary squad in favour of the newly-available Jofra Archer. Willey was devastated to be cut but worked hard to reclaim favour and will be part of the team in India.

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