A strong foundation of any team’s batting order is often laid down by the two most responsible men at the top, commonly known as the openers. Much of a side’s success is credited to them, and more often than not, they are blamed for failure as well. Especially, in the one-day international format, where the scope to perform is limited to 50 overs. England’s name may not stand out in the list of sides having exceptional opening pairs. But over the years, they have tried and tested different permutations and combinations, which have worked for them on most occasions, resulting in substantial team success.
After Andrew Strauss’ exit from the ODI setup, England experimented with a new pair in the form of Alastair Cook and Craig Kieswetter which became an instant success in their home series against India. However, the biggest success followed during England’s tour of Pakistan in the UAE, where the powerful combination of Cook and Kevin Pietersen was a huge hit immediately. While both openers did not perform at the same time on all occasions, each of them contributed when his partner fell and resurrected the innings. The industrious Cook struck two back-to-back centuries in the first two ODIs against Pakistan and the stylish Pietersen followed suit, notching his highest ODI score in the process (130) and also achieving a staggering Batting Momentum of 170 on the Castrol Index. It was a 4-0 clean sweep for the visitors as their openers stood out brilliantly in comparison to their opposition. In fact, none of the Pakistani batsmen could achieve a Batting Momentum even remotely close to that of the England openers.
England played their next ODI series after a gap of nearly four months and in the meantime, lost Pietersen as he announced his retirement from limited-overs cricket. With one opener’s slot vacant in the side, Ian Bell was drafted to fill the vacancy against West Indies. It was a blessing in disguise for Bell as he grabbed the much-awaited opportunity with both hands and announced his comeback in grand style, scoring a confident hundred in the first ODI. Again, it was the experienced Cook who showed responsibility in the second game, once again notching up a ton to guide England to a 20-point victory on the Castrol Index.
It can thus be observed that in the last six games that England have played in the recent past, at least one opening batsman has scored a century and that has played a pivotal role in the team's victory.
With the ODI series against arch rivals Australia coming up, it will be interesting to see whether the void left by Pietersen will be felt dearly. Will comeback man Bell capitalise on the golden opportunity provided to him and establish himself permanently in that position? Cook, on the other hand, has shown a lot of promise trying to shed his Test specialist tag and has come good of late. As England gear up for the five-match series at home, the newly-built opening combination will be up against the fiery pace attack of Brett Lee and company, which will test their true character. A cracker of a series lies in store!