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Baggy green odd couples, Part 2: The batting partners

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Roar Guru
2nd July, 2021
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Part 1 focused on chalk-and-cheese bowling combinations. Part 2 nominates five successful batting pairings in which one player was the dominant partner. Their run-scoring feats show that just as with bowlers, it is an advantage for a pair of players to complement each other.

It’s harder to find an odd couple of batsmen, than one of bowlers. Left-handed and right-handed players aren’t automatically dissimilar. Few are overwhelmingly front-foot or back-foot batsmen. And even when two with different styles share the crease regularly, they don’t always succeed as a duo. Plus, highly-coached batsmen are rarely unique.

While scoring rates can differentiate batsmen, nowadays it is unusual for any player to compile his runs slowly. All have been raised on limited-overs formats and shortened boundaries, and are armed with high-powered bats. Most modern steady batsmen actually score at higher rates than dashing stroke-players of past eras.

Further, a batsman’s reputation for scoring more quickly than his partner can often be based on perception rather than fact. In the 14 century stands between Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden it was Langer who scored the most runs, most often.

Justin Langer and Matt Hayden

(Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Similarly, Mark Taylor contributed 46 per cent of the runs made during his ten 100-run partnerships with Michael Slater.

The immortal Victor Trumper’s regular opening partner was far from dominated in terms of runs made, even if no-one could hope to approach Trumper’s style and wet-pitch skills. Reg Duff provided approximately 45 per cent of the runs during their seven highest stands, which included three in excess of 100 runs. Instead, Trumper played the majority of his most notable innings as a lone hand, while multiple teammates came and quickly went at the other end.

The same applied to his successors Charlie Macartney and Stan McCabe. Each was capable of monopolising the strike and scoring freely, when no other batsman could keep him company for any period of time. However neither batted frequently with the same lesser partner, to regularly collate long partnerships as an odd couple.

Who have been Australia’s most unlike, yet successful, batting duos? Interestingly, each pair of batsmen listed here have also had quite dissimilar backgrounds away from the crease.

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The five best odd-couple batting partnerships

Adam Gilchrist and Damien Martyn
Gilchrist was a free-scoring left-hander from Bellingen in northern New South Wales who won a Sheffield Shield as a specialist batsman then moved west for more opportunities. He revolutionised the role of wicketkeeper, led his country to a historic series win in India, became an all-time great and now enjoys a high media profile.

Darwin-born Martyn also found a home in Western Australia, and was a batting stylist who made run-scoring look easy around the world. He retired mid-Ashes series on his own terms, and withdrew from the limelight before returning in off-field roles.

Gilchrist’s uniqueness meant that any combination with him would always be a chalk-and-cheese one. He almost always outscored his partner by a significant margin. While Martyn’s career strike rate was a very respectable 51.41 runs per 100 balls, only a handful of Test cricketers have exceeded Gilchrist’s exceptional figure of 81.95.

The pair played together 60 times between 1999 and 2006, returning similar figures at the crease. In those matches Gilchrist scored 3747 runs at an average of 49.30, and Martyn 4089 at 48.67. Each recorded 13 centuries.

Adam Gilchrist hits Monty Panesar for six

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Martyn scored more runs in partnership with Gilchrist than with any other teammate, and vice-versa. Their 29 stands yielded 1786 runs with an average partnership of 66.14. Most of their pairings were for the sixth wicket after the dismissal of every other specialist batsman, and six of them returned 100 or more runs. Every one of those century stands was achieved overseas, and they almost always ensured a comfortable victory.

Their first significant stand took place in Hamilton in 1999-00. The home side began the match with a modest total of 232, and reduced Australia to a perilous 6-104. Martyn anchored his side’s recovery with 89 not out from 136 balls, while Gilchrist scored 75 runs from 80 deliveries in a 119-run partnership. Australia was victorious by eight wickets.

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At Edgbaston in 2001, the pair’s 160-run stand in 34.1 overs put the match beyond England’s reach. Martyn scored 105 runs from 165 balls, and Gilchrist an explosive 152 from just 143 deliveries with five sixes. The visitors won the match by an innings.

In Johannesburg in 2001-02, they joined forces at 5-293 and added 317 runs from just 62.1 overs. While Gilchrist scored 204 not out from only 213 deliveries, Martyn was content to play a relatively more leisurely innings of 133 from 207 balls. Australia won the game by an innings and 360 runs.

When Pakistan hosted Australia in Colombo in 2002-03, the pair’s first-innings 128-run stand was crucial to an eventual victory by only 41 runs. Martyn’s share was 67 runs from 152 deliveries, again playing support to Gilchrist’s faster 66 not out from 113 balls.

In Kandy in 2003-04, they produced their most decisive stand of all. After their team conceded a 91-run first-innings deficit and then slumped to 2-26 in its second innings, Gilchrist and Martyn unusually joined forces at numbers three and four rather than seven and six.

The outcome was a 200-run partnership in 53.1 overs. Gilchrist again dominated proceedings with 144 from 185 balls, while Martyn eventually reached 161 from 349 balls in a marathon nine hours. Matthew Hayden’s first-innings 54 was the only other individual score in excess of 27, and Australia eventually won the game by just 27 runs.

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In Wellington in 2004-05, their partnership in a rain-affected draw yielded 256 from 46 overs, to take their team from 5-247 to 6-503. Martyn anchored the innings with 165 from 287 balls at number four, while Gilchrist again provided the fireworks with 162 runs from 146 deliveries including five sixes.

Don Bradman and Bill Woodfull
Bradman is Australia’s greatest ever athlete, who was born in Cootamundra in southern New South Wales and debuted at 20 years of age. Woodfull was 11 years older, a schoolteacher from Maldon in country Victoria, and did not make his debut until he was aged 28.

The pair played together 28 times between 1928 and 1934, with Woodfull captaining his younger teammate from 1930. During those games Bradman scored 3849 runs at 98.69 with 15 centuries, while opening batsman Woodfull contributed 1808 runs at 45.20 with four centuries. They shared 22 partnerships worth 84.09 runs on average. Seven of them were second-wicket stands in excess of 100 runs, with Bradman always the faster and higher-scoring of the two.

Woodfull’s greatest strengths were leadership and patience. In both 1930 and 1934 he led a team that regained the Ashes in England. While his career scoring rate was only 34 runs per 100 balls, his average innings duration of 135 deliveries enabled large partnerships with fast-scoring teammates. For comparison purposes, a typical David Warner innings lasts only 67 balls.

Their first big stand took place at Lord’s in 1930. The visitors scored 6(dec)-729 with Bradman and Woodfull adding 231 runs. Bradman scored 254 from 376 balls in what he considered to be the finest innings that he ever played, without a false shot until the one from which he was brilliantly caught. Woodfull supported him superbly with 155, in the process facing 15 more deliveries but scoring 99 fewer runs.

A fortnight later, Bradman played the first of his many sizeable innings at Headingley. Woodfull scored an even 50 runs from 179 balls, and was dismissed only after he and Bradman had added 192 to take the score from 1-2 to 1-194. Bradman continued on for a final score of 334.

Against the West Indies at the MCG in 1930-31, the pair shared their first major stand at home. It was worth 156 runs. After Woodfull’s dismissal for 83 at 1-206, Bradman continued on for a personal total of 152.

Against South Africa the following summer they combined for three more large stands. During the Gabba’s first-ever Test match they added 163 runs before Woodfull’s dismissal, after which Bradman proceeded to 226.

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(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

At the MCG the pair responded to a 160-run first-innings deficit with a 274-run partnership of which Bradman provided 167 in three hours, while Woodfull’s eventual 161 took him five hours. Four weeks later the pair added 176 in Adelaide and Bradman was ultimately left stranded on 299 not out after debutant and last man Pud Thurlow was run out without scoring.

Their seventh and final century stand took place at the SCG during the Bodyline series of 1932-33. Bradman joined Woodfull after Vic Richardson’s dismissal by Harold Larwood for a second-ball duck. When Bradman was dismissed for a quickfire 71 from 69 balls, the team’s score was 115 with his partner on just 41. Woodfull was eventually seventh man out, for 67 with his side’s score on 177.

Bill Brown and Stan McCabe 
McCabe was from Grenfell in country New South Wales. He was short and stocky, had excellent footwork, drove and hooked well, and relished facing fast bowling. He debuted for his state at 18 years of age, and a year later gained selection for the 1930 Ashes tour. Sadly he played his last Test at the age of 28 due to the commencement of WWII, and died relatively young at 58.

McCabe’s career scoring rate was 61.5 runs per 100 balls. No other Australian during the 90 years between Victor Trumper and Adam Gilchrist, not even Bradman, scored more quickly than him. During his short career he played a series of remarkable innings. Each featured monopolisation of the strike and rapid scoring, often in crisis situations.

Brown was a Queenslander from Toowoomba, who played for New South Wales before returning to his home State. His opening batting was best known for placement and glancing. During WWII he served as an officer. He subsequently led Australia against New Zealand in 1945-46 and was a member of the Invincibles. He died relatively recently in 2008, at the grand age of 95.

The pair batted together ten times and their stands yielded 650 runs at an average of 65.00, with three partnerships in excess of 100. McCabe was the dominant partner while Brown always played a secondary role.

At Trent Bridge in the 1934 series’ first match, Australia was seeking to recover the Ashes lost to Bodyline. The side took a 106-run first-innings lead and as it sought to press home its advantage, Brown and McCabe added 112 runs. McCabe’s share was a rapid 88 from just 121 deliveries. Brown contributed only 15 runs to the stand, and ultimately made a funereal 73 runs from 257 balls. Australia won by dismissing the home side for 141 in 107.4 overs.

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Baggy green

(Photo by Daniel Pockett – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images )

The following month at Old Trafford they came together at 1-34 in pursuit of the home team’s 9(dec)-627. An indisposed Bradman was held back until number six. The outcome was a partnership of 196 runs. McCabe’s share of the stand was 129 runs, and he was eventually dismissed for 137 from 204 balls. Brown contributed just 56 to the partnership. Australia successfully forced a draw.

In Durban in 1935-36, the duo shared their third and last century stand. McCabe again batted at number three in Bradman’s absence, and joined Brown with their side’s score 1-12. The pair added 161 runs before Brown was dismissed. McCabe’s share of that stand was 98 runs, and Brown’s a mere 59. McCabe continued on to a personal score of 149. Australia ultimately won by nine wickets.

Ed Cowan and David Warner
Both Cowan and Warner were left-handed opening batsmen born in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Each commenced his grade career in the AW Green Shield competition with Eastern Suburbs Cricket Club.

Cowan was educated at elite private school Cranbrook College, gained a tertiary degree in commerce and transferred to Sydney University Cricket Club. He worked as an investment analyst and represented both Oxford University and British Universities. He relocated to Tasmania to enhance his Test prospects, and retired from professional cricket to build a successful career as an articulate author, radio commentator and business owner.

Warner grew up in a working-class family in a housing commission home. At one time he stacked supermarket shelves for extra cash. His first scoring shot for New South Wales was a four back over the bowlers’ head at the now-disused Olympic Stadium. He debuted for Australia before he had played a first-class match, and has since become team vice-captain and one of his country’s greatest ever opening batsmen.

David Warner

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The pair opened the batting together between 2011 and 2013, sharing 30 partnerships that yielded 1291 runs at an average of 43.03. Three of those stands were in excess of 100 runs, while a further six reached a half-century. The combination ended when Chris Rogers deposed Cowan during the Ashes tour of 2013.

Within their pairing, Warner was clearly the aggressor. His career scoring rate of 72.68 runs per 100 balls is one of the highest of all time. Cowan’s rate of 41.27 is slow by modern standards albeit almost identical to those of Mark Taylor and Greg Blewett. In their 15 highest partnerships Warner contributed the most runs 14 times, and was the first batsman dismissed ten times.

Their highest partnership took place against India at the WACA in 2011-12. When Cowan was dismissed for a relatively fast 74 from 120 deliveries, his team’s score had already reached 0-214 from just 38.5 overs. His partner Warner struck 180 from just 159 balls, including five sixes. Australia won by an innings.

The Boxing Day match against Sri Lanka in 2012-13 was another example of the duo’s respective roles. After Australia dismissed the visitors for 156, its opening pair rammed home its advantage. Warner scored 62 from just 46 deliveries, and Cowan kept him company with a more leisurely 36 from 82 balls. The stand was worth 95 from 17.3 overs when Warner fell. Again, his team won by an innings.

Ross Edwards and Doug Walters
Edwards was a dependable batsman-wicketkeeper and brilliant cover fieldsman from Perth. Walters was a swashbuckling crowd favourite and partnership-breaking medium pacer from Dungog in country New South Wales.

During 18 matches together between 1972 and 1975, they batted generally at five and six. In those games Edwards scored 1002 runs with two centuries, while Walters totalled 921 with three tons. They shared 11 partnerships for 504 runs, and Edwards’ reliability gave Walters the freedom to attack.

Their most famous stand took place at the WACA in 1974-75. The home team was 4-192 when Walters joined Edwards at the crease, in pursuit of England’s modest 208. While Edwards compiled a sedate 115 from 252 deliveries, his partner cut loose.

Walters scored a century from just 119 balls, contributing 103 runs to a stand of 170 in only 140 minutes. A hook shot for six from a Bob Willis bouncer was the most famous stroke of his career. He played it from the very last ball of the match’s second day, taking his score from 97 to 103 and in the process registering his century inside a session. Edwards contributed just 64 runs to the partnership.

Previously in the West Indies in 1973-74, he had monopolised the scoring similarly. In Port of Spain, he scored 100 runs in a session and Edwards contributed only 12 to their 59-run stand. And then in Kingston, they shared a 92-run partnership in 102 minutes of which Walters’ share was 72.

The best odd-couple batting partnership of all 
Other countries have their own versions of long-term batting odd couples. England’s Jack Hobbs easily outpaced first Wilfred Rhodes and then Herbert Sutcliffe. The West Indies’ Brian Lara dominated his partnerships with Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya did likewise to Marvin Atapattu, and South Africa’s Graeme Smith similarly to Gary Kirsten.

However, by far the best example anywhere of a first and second fiddle is India’s Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. They are two of the game’s greatest ever players, who Cricinfo named in its all-time Indian team in 2010, as opening and first-drop batsman respectively.

Rahul Dravid during a tour match between ECB XI v India A

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Delhi-born Sehwag is one of the fastest-scoring and most exciting players in the history of cricket. In 104 matches he averaged 49.34 with the bat while maintaining a scoring rate of 82.23 runs per 100 balls, among the highest ever achieved. His 23 centuries included two triple hundreds and a 293.

‘The Wall’ Dravid was a batsman of classical style, and team captain. He averaged 52.31 with the bat and scored 36 centuries. His own career scoring rate was a below-average 42.51 runs per 100 deliveries. However he did turn himself into a successful limited-overs player.

The duo batted together 60 times, and those stands yielded 3405 runs at an average of 58.70. Ten of them were in excess of 100 runs, with a highest partnership of 410. Notwithstanding Dravid’s ability, Sehwag always completely outshone him on the scoreboard.

In Lahore in 2005-06, after Pakistan scored 7(dec)-679, captain Dravid elected to open the innings with Sehwag. Their resulting partnership was 410 runs from 76.5 overs, of which Sehwag provided 254 from 247 balls. Dravid supported him well, with an unbeaten 128 from 233 deliveries. Unsurprisingly, the match was drawn.

Against South Africa in Chennai in 2007-08, Sehwag shared successive double-century partnerships with Wasim Jaffer and then Dravid. He was eventually dismissed for 319 from 304 balls when his team’s score was only 1-481. Two overs later, clearly not a man for a crisis, Sachin Tendulkar fell for a five-ball duck. Dravid batted on and on, to finish with 111 from 291 deliveries. The pair had added 268 runs in 58.4 overs. Again, the match was drawn.

Against Sri Lanka in Mumbai in 2009-10, Sehwag dominated yet another pair of 200-run stands. He added first 221 with Murali Vijay, then 237 with Dravid. Hs final score was 293 from 254 balls, with seven sixes. Dravid again played second fiddle, to score 74 from 147 balls. This time, India won by an innings.

The pair achieved its fourth and final double-century stand against New Zealand in Ahmedabad in 2010-11. After the home side batted first and progressed to 1-60, Dravid joined Sehwag. The outcome was a partnership of 237 runs, in which Sehwag again outscored his fellow great by a ratio of two-to-one. Sehwag’s innings ended at 173 from 199 deliveries, while Dravid contributed a far more sedate 104 from 227 balls.

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