England’s opening batsmen have been under the spotlight in recent years but who are the best openers in the history of the English game?
Best England Openers in Cricket History
1. Herbert Sutcliffe
Along with Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe formed what many believe was England’s best opening partnership of all time. After making his debut against South Africa at Edgbaston in 1924, he played his final test against the same opponents 11 years later.
Sutcliffe played 54 test matches in total and scored 4555 runs with 16 centuries. His highest score in tests was 194 but it’s his consistency and his average of 60.73 which puts him at the top of this list.
Herbert Sutcliffe’s technique and incredible powers of concentration were among the keys to his success and he made an incredible 151 centuries in all first class cricket.
2. Geoffrey Boycott
Yorkshire’s Geoffrey Boycott was England’s established opening batsman when I grew up watching cricket. He also had a brilliant technique and incredible patience for any type of situation.
Boycott made his debut against Australia in 1964 and would go on to play 108 tests in 18 years. His tally of 8114 runs was a record for England at the time and it included 22 centuries with a highest score of 246.
3. Graham Gooch
After making his test debut in 1975, Graham Gooch would eventually take over from Geoff Boycott but the two were very different batters. Gooch would always look to score quickly and to take the shine off the new ball very early on.
It was an effective approach and one that brought him 8900 runs in test cricket. At one point, he was England’s highest run scorer in the format and the highlight of his career came against India in 1990. Gooch scored 333 on first innings and added a century in the second. His total of 456 in the match remains the highest in test cricket history.
4. Leonard Hutton
Len Hutton took over from Jack Hobbs to become another of England’s most effective opening batters. Hutton himself enjoyed a brilliant career and he still holds the record for the highest score by an Englishman in test cricket.
Against Australia at the Oval in 1938, Hutton made 364 in England’s incredible total of 903/7. That effort was one of 19 centuries that he scored in his test career. A more stylish batsman than some of his contemporaries, Len Hutton’s final tally of 6971 international runs came at an impressive average of 56.67.
5. Jack Hobbs
As part of an extraordinary opening partnership, Jack Hobbs was a mainstay of England’s top order for 23 years from his debut in 1907 to his final test against Australia in 1930. At a time when less international cricket was played, Hobbs featured in just 61 test matches in that long period.
He certainly made his mark with those relatively limited set of opportunities and, in 102 test innings, he scored 5410 runs at an average of 56.94. His 15 test centuries included a best of 211 which was made against South Africa in 1924.
6. Alastair Cook
As the highest English test run scorer of all time, Alastair Cook could have been ranked more highly. However, we also need to take into account the amount of test innings that he played and compare them to those of others on this list.
That’s not to take anything away from Cook. He was a stunning batsman who scored a century on debut against India in 2006. 12 years later he retired from test cricket with another ton in his final innings against the same opponents.
In total, the former England captain appeared in 161 tests making 12,472 runs. He scored no fewer than 33 hundreds with a best of 294.
7. Michael Atherton
An obdurate batsman, Michael Atherton showed all the mental qualities needed to become an opener. He had extreme powers of concentration and was unfazed by even the most hostile bowling and sledging from his opponents.
He may not have always been able to quicken the tempo when he’d been at the crease for a significant amount of time but he was supremely effective at the top of the order. Atherton played 115 tests for England between 1989 and 2001. He made 7728 runs with 16 centuries and a brilliant best of 185 from 492 balls against South Africa in 1995.
8. Andrew Strauss
Together with Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss formed one of the best modern-day partnerships in world cricket. They were extremely successful as a pairing and both returned exceptional figures in their own right.
Strauss was another man to score a hundred on his debut when he made 112 against New Zealand at Lord’s in 2004. In fact, Strauss was very unlucky to miss out on doubling up as he was infamously run out on 83 in the second innings.
From that first game in 2004, Strauss would go on to play exactly 100 tests as he became an established opener and skipper of the England test side. That century on debut was one of 21 hundreds at test level and that tally includes his highest score of 177.
Strauss was a stylish left hander who could bat at a high tempo when required and he also produced some important innings in One Day Internationals.
9. Marcus Trescothick
Marcus Trescothick was Andrew Strauss’ opening partner for a brief period until health issues away from the pitch sadly brought an end to his playing career. Another left hander, the Somerset man liked to play his shots from the very start and his quick scoring was perfect for a new millennium and a new era for test match cricket.
Trescothick made his debut against the West Indies in 2000 and he would bow out prematurely against Pakistan at The Oval six years later. It was a brief test career but his statistics at test match level prove that he fully deserves his place here.
In 76 test matches, Marcus Trescothick made 5825 runs for England. His average was an impressive 43.79 and he scored 16 centuries with a highest score of 219. There could have been more but the player continued to enjoy county cricket until his retirement from the game in 2019.
10. John Edrich
John Edrich scored the very first century that I watched as a spectator. That’s not why I’ve included him on this list and he very much deserves to be here. His 175 against Australia at Lord’s in 1975 was, however, one of my earliest and favourite cricketing memories.
This was the tail end of his career, however. John Edrich had made his debut in England’s test side back in 1963 against the West Indies. He was a compact left-handed batsman who also played at the start of the One Day International era but he was more suited to the sedate pace of test cricket.
Edrich famously made a triple century in test cricket, taking 310 from New Zealand in 1965. He passed a hundred on 12 occasions in 77 tests from 1963 to 1976. In total, the left hander made 5138 test runs at an average of 43.54.
Promising England Openers in County Cricket
The opening slot in the English national team is a problem area at the time of writing. The side has yet to really compensate for the loss of Alastair Cook and a number of batsmen have tried and failed.
As I write, Durham’s Alex Lees is the latest to be tried in this position and he certainly has some promise. Elsewhere, it may well be time to hand Nottinghamshire’s Joe Clarke a chance. Issues off the field may have held Clarke back, up to this point but his record in English county cricket is hard to ignore.
Other promising young batters who are coming through the county ranks include Harry Brook, Josh Bohannon and Rob Yates. Not all of those players will have opened throughout their young careers but they seem to have the talent and the qualities needed for this specialist role.
Rob Yates is particularly interesting, having made big runs in the final of the Bob Willis trophy in 2021 and we could see him included in a test squad before too long.