India’s regular opener Navjot Singh Sidhu had a stiff neck, so skipper Mohammad Azharuddin was looking for a replacement ahead of the second ODI against New Zealand at Auckland on March 27, 1994. His first choice wasn’t Sachin Tendulkar.
“In 1994, when I started opening the batting for India, the strategy used by all teams was to save wickets. What I tried to do was slightly out of the box,” Tendulkar had later revealed.
He added: “I thought I could go upfront and take the opposition bowlers on. But I had to beg and plead to please give me a chance. If I fail, I won’t come after you again.”
His pleading worked and the idea proved to be an unqualified success.
“In that first match (against New Zealand at Auckland), I scored 82 off 49 balls, so I didn’t have to ask again if I would get another chance,” Tendulkar had said.
In many ways, it was a move that changed Tendulkar and Indian cricket forever.
Tendulkar in every batting position
Tendulkar’s talent was always unquestionable but in his early years, he produced only fleeting glimpses of what most imagined him to be capable of. There was the odd knock here and there but on the whole, the youngster’s ODI career had an underwhelming feel to it.
But the move to opener changed all that. Before 1994, he averaged 30.84 in 69 ODIs. After 1994, he averaged 48.29 in 344 ODIs. A game-changer if there ever was one.
1994: Before and after
Of course, there were others who looked to attack at the top of the innings. Mark Greatbatch did it with great success in the 1992 World Cup. The aggressive Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana revolutionised the game in their own way but no one did with the calm consistency of Tendulkar. And calm, in this case, doesn’t mean slow.
Tendulkar differed from other aggressive openers because of the manner in which he would construct his innings. His career strike-rate of 88.05 shows how aggressive he was but at the same time, his average of 48.29 shows he had a knack of picking the right balls to attack.
The manner in which he managed to marry the strike-rate and average shows how special he was.
From March 1994 to 2012, when Tendulkar retired
|SR Tendulkar (INDIA)||1994-2012||344||15310||200*||48.29||88.05||45||75|
|ST Jayasuriya (Asia/SL)||1994-2011||382||12656||189||34.86||92.92||28||66|
|AC Gilchrist (AUS/ICC)||1998-2008||260||9200||172||36.50||98.02||16||53|
|SC Ganguly (INDIA)||1996-2007||242||9146||183||41.57||73.59||19||58|
|CH Gayle (ICC/WI)||2000-2011||210||7839||153*||41.04||84.62||19||42|
|V Sehwag (Asia/ICC/INDIA)||2001-2012||208||7335||219||36.67||105.11||14||34|
|Saeed Anwar (PAK)||1994-2003||181||6677||194||40.22||79.56||14||33|
|GC Smith (Afr/SA)||2002-2012||180||6583||141||39.18||81.72||9||45|
|G Kirsten (SA)||1994-2003||164||6299||188*||42.27||73.11||12||43|
|NJ Astle (NZ)||1995-2007||191||6176||145*||34.89||72.72||14||37|
There were a few who managed to score runs at a higher average than Tendulkar between 1994 and 2012. Hashim Amla (57.12) and Mahela Jayawardene (54.47) had splendid runs at the top of the order.
The table below only looks at openers who were around when Tendulkar was still playing but even if one goes beyond that, few have been able to match the Indian master for his sheer consistency. He was a batsman India could trust at all times.
Best openers between 1994 and 2012 (by avg)
|HM Amla (SA)||2008-2012||54||2856||140||57.12|
|DPMD Jayawardene (SL)||2008-2012||21||1035||144||54.47|
|SR Tendulkar (INDIA)||1994-2012||344||15310||200*||48.29|
|HH Dippenaar (Afr/SA)||1999-2006||43||1752||125*||47.35|
|SR Watson (AUS)||2006-2012||82||3440||185*||46.48|
|ML Hayden (AUS)||1994-2008||139||5721||181*||45.76|
|MJ Guptill (NZ)||2009-2012||39||1455||122*||44.09|
|TM Dilshan (SL)||2008-2012||86||3513||160*||43.91|
|ME Waugh (AUS)||1996-2002||136||5421||173||43.36|
|S Chanderpaul (WI)||1996-2011||77||2949||150||43.36|
Just as fast bowlers hunt in pairs, so do openers. Tendulkar was lucky to find two other batsmen with whom he forged formidable opening partnerships.
With Sourav Ganguly, he put on 6609 runs at an average of 49.32 at the top of the order. The right and left-hand combination made things difficult for bowlers.
With Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar put on 3919 runs at an average of 42.13. While Tendulkar was often the aggressor in his partnership with Ganguly, here it was Sehwag who would take the attack to the opposition.
Most successful ODI opening pairs
|SC Ganguly, SR Tendulkar (INDIA)||1996-2007||136||2||6609||258||49.32||21||23|
|AC Gilchrist, ML Hayden (AUS)||2001-2008||114||3||5372||172||48.39||16||29|
|CG Greenidge, DL Haynes (WI)||1979-1991||102||4||5150||192*||52.55||15||24|
|S Dhawan, RG Sharma (INDIA)||2013-2020||107||1||4802||210||45.30||16||14|
|HM Amla, Q de Kock (SA)||2013-2019||93||3||4198||282*||46.64||11||14|
|V Sehwag, SR Tendulkar (INDIA)||2002-2012||93||0||3919||182||42.13||12||18|
|AC Gilchrist, ME Waugh (AUS)||1998-2002||93||0||3853||206||41.43||8||20|
|DC Boon, GR Marsh (AUS)||1986-1992||88||0||3523||212||40.03||7||25|
|MS Atapattu, ST Jayasuriya (SL)||1997-2007||79||2||3382||237||43.92||8||19|
|AJ Finch, DA Warner (AUS)||2014-2020||65||1||3297||258*||51.51||10||14|
In terms of runs, it will be difficult for too many batsmen to get close to Tendulkar. Virat Kohli’s incredible run over the last few years means that he might but Rohit Sharma’s form at the top of the order has seen him average more than Tendulkar by a fair margin.
Sharma, like Tendulkar, spent the early part of his ODI career batting lower down the order but since he moved to the opener’s slot in 2013, he has hardly put a foot wrong.
Best Indian openers (by runs)
Tendulkar’s success at the top of the order forced international teams to rethink their strategy and that, one might argue, shows just how huge an impact his elevation to opener had on world cricket.
Before that, the team’s best batsman would always be reserved for the No 3 or No 4 slot but Tendulkar changed all that. The soundness of the strategy lay in giving the best batsmen the chance of batting the most deliveries and if the batsman stayed in the middle, he/she could take advantage of the field restrictions too.
In essence, it was a simple strategy but someone had to show the way and all those years ago in 1994, Tendulkar did just that.
All statistics courtesy ESPNCricinfo