The job of an opening batsman is not easy. They're sent out to face the new ball at a time when the bowlers are both physically as well as mentally fresh. With high levels of concentration and the ability to score runs in challenging conditions required, opening the innings is not every cricketer's cup of tea.
There have, however, been a few batsmen who started their international journey in the middle-order but found their calling as openers as their careers progressed.
Today, we take a look at five batsmen who were promoted to open the innings, and this became a defining moment in their careers.
1. Sanath Jayasuriya
Sanath Jayasuriya, the fearless opener from Sri Lanka who redefined top-order batting in the mid-90s, started out as a middle-order batsman. At a time when hitting over the 30-yard circle in the initial overs was not the norm, the left-handed big hitter was held back in the pavilion to provide fireworks in the latter part of the innings.
Coming in at No. 5 in his debut ODI against Australia in 1989, he could only manage 3 runs in 5 balls. The big change came in 1993-94, when he was briefly promoted up the order. In an ODI against Pakistan in 1994, he opened the batting with Arjuna Ranatunga and scored 77.
After that, there was no looking back, as he made the opening position his own. He ended his decorated cricketing career with 21,032 international runs to his name. Sanath Jayasuriya is still considered as one of the best opening batsmen to have graced the game.
2. Chris Gayle
Christopher Henry Gayle - the tall Jamaican who is popular for his towering sixes irrespective of the format of the game - started his career as a middle-order batsman too. He started off at No. 4, and dropped as low as No. 7 in his first few matches. However, his huge swing with the bat and terrific hand-eye coordination made him a candidate fit to play at the top of the order for West Indies.
He first opened in ODIs against Zimbabwe, scoring a steady 41 in 2000 at Bristol. He took his time, but the lack of options in the West Indies side made him first-choice at the top. A blistering 152 against Kenya in 2001 sealed the deal for him in limited overs, and the "Universe Boss" took off from there.
He now has 9221 ODI, and 7214 Test runs to his name, including an ODI double-ton and two Test triple centuries. Today, it seems difficult to imagine another batting position for the power-hitter in any form of cricket.
3. Rohit Sharma
He stuck on to his place in the side, but broken contributions became a major source of concern for him. Till 2012, he had batted as an opener only thrice, and the results hadn't been inspiring.
Against England in early 2013, he opened the batting with Gautam Gambhir and made a stroke-filled 83. He gradually started giving starts and was persisted at the top.
However, the deal clincher came against Australia in October 2013, when he blasted an unbeaten 141. In that very series, he compiled an enormous 209, and followed it up with a scintillating, record-breaking 264 the very next year. The sky seems to be the limit for Rohit Sharma who is now the first-choice opener for India.
4. Tillakaratne Dilshan
Before 2009, Tillakaratne Dilshan was one of the many bits-and-pieces cricketers in the Sri Lankan line-up, trying to provide some solidity to the team that banked on individual brilliance to succeed. With Jayasuriya's form waning, the Lankans required experience at the top of the order. Dilshan had been part of the team for a decade now, but when it was time to step up, he did it in style.
He struck an unbeaten 137 in only his third innings as an opener and followed it with a series of huge scores in all three formats. That very year, he made 2,568 runs at an average of 55. The all-rounder went on to become the highest run-getter in the 2011 World Cup, and is considered as one of the best openers to have played for Sri Lanka.
5. Sachin Tendulkar
The man with almost every ODI record for a batsman under his belt, Sachin Tendulkar was one of the best opening batsmen of his time. He played ODIs for 23 long years, but he too, didn't start his career as an opening batsman.
Tendulkar made his debut at No. 5 and returned with two consecutive ducks. Sachin played in the middle order until 1994, and didn't get a single hundred in his first 78 ODIs.
However, Navjot Singh Sidhu was injured before a game against New Zealand at Auckland, and Tendulkar was sent out as an opener along with Ajay Jadeja. Chasing a small target, he scored a 49-ball 82, and made his mark at the top.
What followed, was a record 49 ODI centuries and the most runs in the game by any batsman in an ODI career that continued till 2012.Published 18 Nov 2020, 12:46 IST