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Taylor, Hayden or Warner on top? We rank Australia’s 5 best Test openers

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Test cricket, best test openers, hayden, warner

Opening the batting is Test cricket’s most intimidating role.

Walking to the crease, marking centre, taking strike; they’re all small actions carried out as a player attempts to suppress a tidal wave of pressure and expectation. The fast bowler stands at the top of their run-up; the crowd roars.

The opener is tasked with processing and making split second decisions, repelling the ball, showing an aggressive mindset and, ideally, kickstarting an innings. It’s anything but simple.

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Australian Test cricket has a rich history of opening batsmen who, at one point in their careers, laid claim to being some of the finest willow yielders on the planet. There have been hyper-aggressive rapid scorers, patient artists carefully constructing their innings, and those who finely balance these two extremes.

While there are many to choose from, who is the star atop the Australian opening batsman ranks?

Who are Australia’s 5 greatest Test cricket opening batters?

Honourable mentions

Bill Lawry, Bob Simpson, Geoff Marsh, Simon Katich, Usman Khawaja, David Boon

usman khawaja, test cricket
Usman Khawaja just misses the cut of Australia’s all-time top 5 openers.

#5 Michael Slater

Games: 74

Runs: 5312 

Average: 42.83

HS: 219

100s: 14

Throughout the 1990s, few things were guaranteed in Australian society, except of course for Michael Slater and Mark Taylor opening Australia’s innings. Alongside Taylor, Michael Slater plodded away, quietly accumulating a healthy dose of runs that deservedly places him on the pantheon of great Australian opening batters. 

‘Slats’ may be remembered in some quarters for his susceptibility to a dismissal in the nervous 90’s, falling shy of a century nine times in his career, but a wider view of his game reveals a dependable opener with a knack for scoring tough runs beautifully.

Perhaps the best example of this quality was his 123 against England at Sydney during the 1999 Ashes, as the side around him crumbled to a total of 184.

#4 Justin Langer

Games: 105

Runs: 7696

Average: 250 

HS: 45.27

100s: 23

Another opener renowned for their partnership work, it was alongside Matthew Hayden at the top of Australia’s order where Justin Langer was most productive. A fiery, livewire batsman unafraid of anything opponents tossed his way — just ask Shoaib Akhtar.

A truly one-of-one character, Langer was technically as good as they come, always operating with a still, calm head, with an uncanny knack of brilliantly driving strokes down the ground.  

While it’s hard to top scoring 250 in an Ashes test as a career peak, Langer’s 2004 does just that. In 14 matches, he scored 1481 runs at an average of 61.70 with five tons. At the time, just three players had scored more runs in a year than the Western Australian.

Despite his individual accolades, Langer will undoubtedly be remembered for how seamlessly in tandem he and Hayden operated. Opening the batting, the pair scored 5654 runs at an average of 51 runs per partnership, a rate bettered only by the West Indies’ Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.

Remarkable.

#3 David Warner

Games: 109

Runs: 8651*

Average: 44.45*

HS: 335*

100s: 26

Warner’s career will always be scarred by 2018’s ‘Sandpaper Gate’ scandal that saw him banned from cricket for one year. His subsequent form has sputtered more than its roared since then, despite a blistering start to his farewell summer tour against Pakistan.

In his pomp however, David Warner was cricket’s most frightening prospect, capable of completely turning matches on their head in an over, or a session, with his uncanny knack of thunderously smashing centuries quicker than other batsmen accrue 20 runs. 

One of cricket’s pioneering three-form batsmen, Warner is undoubtedly one of the game’s greatest ever entertainers, a pioneer of the switch-hit and a proponent of dispatching every ball with as much gusto as he can muster. 

While he mightn’t be remembered as such, he is without a shadow of a doubt one of Australia’s finest ever opening batters. 

David Warners image

#2 Mark Taylor

Games: 104

Runs: 7525

Average:  43.59

HS:  334*

100s: 19

Pouring just over the raw data would lead one to conclude Mark Taylor is too high on this list. He has the fourth best average and fourth highest runs total. Such analysis would be too reductive and simplistic a view to take on a complicated, wonderful career. 

When Mark Taylor, known as ‘Tubby’ in backhanded affection, entered a tumultuous Australian side fresh from years of rot, he stamped his mark immediately. In 1989, his first year as a Test cricket opener, Tubby scored 839 runs at an average of 83.9. 

Over the next decade, he was instrumental in Australia’s return to cricket’s peak against frightening opponents, such as Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan. 

If it weren’t for Tubby’s services to Test cricket, Australia’s dominant sides of the late 1990s and early 2000s might never have existed. 

#1 Matthew Hayden

Games: 103

Runs: 8625

Average: 50.73

HS: 380

100s: 30

Matthew Hayden did not hit balls, he dispatched them; thrusting with brute force, like a bouncer evicting a drunken idiot from a bar.

At six-foot-two, he was a hulking, imposing, and fear-inducing proposition for any bowler.

test cricket, best openers, australia, opening batters
Aussie great Matthew Hayden.

Despite rightfully being renowned for his powerful ball striking, fundamentally Hayden was an incredibly sound cricketer. At his peak, his batting was the perfect marriage of an elegant stroke repertoire and destructive power. A tornado of a batsman. 

His 380 not-out against Zimbabwe, a then-world record broken only by Brian Lara since, was undoubtedly the peak of his career. However, it almost never eventuated; he battled to establish himself as a great Test opener early in his career.

It took until 2001, seven years after his debut, before Hayden’s position at the top of the Australian order was cemented. He began the year as the top scorer during a tour of India and ended it with five centuries, five half-tons, and 1391 runs, more than any other year in his career.

From that point on, there was no looking back. Matthew Hayden was undoubtedly opening the batting for Australia whenever he was fit to, and his ferocious, demoralising innings’ kick started many winning innings for an Australian side regarded as the greatest ever.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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