There are a few tasks as daunting as climbing Mount Everest, and to open the batting in a Test match in Australia seems to be one of them — especially if the openers hail from the Indian subcontinent where batsmen grow up playing on low, flat tracks.
Before the advent of ‘drop-in’ pitches in Australia, wickets (pitches) were quite notorious for the batsmen, particularly for openers. The renowned pair of Mudassar Nazar and Mohsin Khan had the opportunity to open the innings in Australia the most number of times, but both of them couldn’t make it to the top five table of the best Pakistani openers Down Under.
Mohsin opened in eight Test matches (14 innings) and made 489 runs with an average of 34.92, while his partner Mudassar scored 495 runs in 18 innings, averaging only 27.50 as an opener.
That said, Mudassar contributed with a score of 95 in Pakistan’s victory by an innings and 82 runs against the home side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1981. And Mohsin made two big hundreds — 149 at the Adelaide Oval and 152 at the MCG in 1983.
It is not easy for any batsman in the world to open the batting on Australia’s bouncy and pacy tracks. Pakistani cricketers are no exception. Eos looks at Pakistan’s top five openers Down Under over the years
Now let’s look at the five best Pakistan Test openers, performance-wise, in Australia.
The newly-appointed captain of the Pakistan Test team, Azhar Ali, heads the table with a staggering batting average of 81.20 as an opener in Australia. In his maiden Test tour Down Under in 2016, he got off to a splendid start when he made 71 in the day-night Test at The Gabba, Brisbane. But more laurels were in store for him in the next Test — Azhar became the first Pakistani batsman to score a double hundred (205*) in Australia, and he accomplished this feat at the iconic MCG. If Azhar is able to score 100 runs in the (forthcoming/ongoing) two-Test series against Australia, he will beat the record of most number of runs by a Pakistan openers, currently held by Salman Butt.
Saeed Anwar first came into the limelight as a fearless, swashbuckling opening batsman in the ‘World Series Cup’ (triangular ODI tournament) in the 1989-90 Australian summer. Anwar had significant experience of batting in Aussie conditions before he played his first Test in Australia in 1999. No wonder he made full use of this experience and scored a tally of 282 runs in a three-Test series with a robust average of 47.00. His stellar hundred (119) made at Brisbane against a formidable Australian bowling line-up — with the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, and Damien Fleming — is still remembered by cricket fans as one of the best knocks played by the Pakistan opener in Australia.
Salman may have become a ‘persona non grata’ in international cricket, but his Test performance in Australia as an opener is superlative. He holds the record for the maximum number of runs (505) by a Pakistan opener in Australia. He was only 20-years-old when he made his first Test hundred there — scoring a magnificent 108 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in Jan 2005. He scored 225 runs in three Tests on that tour. On his second tour Down Under, in 2010, he made another gallant century (102) at Hobart and finished the tour with a healthy aggregate of 280 runs in the three-Test series.
A fluent left-handed opener and the younger brother of Hanif and Mushtaq Mohammad, Sadiq Mohammad made runs in Australia before the ‘drop-in’ pitches era. Sadiq, a talented and brave soul, fancied playing Australia in Australia so much that he had a better batting Test average (40.00) in Australia
than his overall average (35.81) when his career ended. He made two centuries there, both at the MCG. One of the centuries (137) was made in the 1977 tour, against the fearsome fast-bowling trio of the ’70s — Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and Max Walker.
The ‘Mighty Khan’ was never known for his noteworthy footwork, but still looked extremely elegant at the crease. Majid had a successful outing in Australia as an opener. He batted on many different batting positions with an average of 35.80, but such was his class that he was more successful (Avg: 39.55) as an opener on the hard and bouncy tracks of Australia. The 1979 Melbourne Test is fondly remembered for Sarfraz Nawaz’s nine-wicket haul in the innings, but it was Majid who withered the thunderbolts of Rodney Hogg. His innings of 108 runs played a pivotal role in posting a target of 382 runs for the home team to chase. Pakistan won that match by 71 runs.
The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 10th, 2019