There was a time in cricket when being a Test opener primarily meant seeing the shine off the ball, and then, if he survives, going on to compile a big score. This is how so many legends like Sunil Gavaskar, Desmond Haynes and others built their entire careers. A great Indian coach once famously said, give the first hour to the bowlers, and the next five are yours. A number of successful openers around the world applied this formula and tasted great success. However, that seems like a thing of the past though, as modern day openers seem to have altered their approach, and have adopted a positive, much more aggressive approach.
Aussie smashing opener David Warner, who blasted a fantastic century on the opening day of the Adelaide Test, is part of the modern breed of opening batsmen, who do not believe in the block and survive approach. Instead, he just goes all out at the bowlers and makes a dashing impact on the game. He may already have done irreparable damage to India's chances at Adelaide with his sensational innings on the opening day. It was not the first time that the southpaw had played such a blazing knock. However, against the backdrop of Phillip Hughes' death, it almost seemed as if Warner was taking out his anger on the Indian bowlers.
The credit for the birth of the aggressive opening batsman in Tests must go to Virender Sehwag. It was he who changed the unwritten rule in the five-day game that the openers must block out the new ball. Sehwag came up with his own funda, that off taking the shine off the ball by knocking the cover off it. Sehwag was not a natural opener, yet he adapted to the role like fish does to water. Irrespective of the conditions -- be it at home, or in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, he shone in all sorts of challenges. Seeing Sehwag succeed, the other openers around the world also picked up clues, and adopted his famous approach.
Even though the likes of Matthew Hayden and Chris Gayle made their debuts before Sehwag, they only tasted success in their later years, almost as if inspired by Sehwag's tactics. And, once the duo got going in international cricket, there was no stopping them. Hayden went on to become one of the greatest openers in Tests while Gayle is still around troubling bowlers. The one thing that binds the Aussie and the West Indian is their intimidating presence out in the middle. Inspired by the model, other sides also looked to have aggressive men at the top. And while Australia have succeeded with Warner, many other sides have failed.
It is not as if there is no place for the traditional opener in the longer version of the game. Hayden partnered Justin Langer for the majority of the 2000s, and they formed a formidable pair. Langer rarely played an attacking stroke, which is perhaps why he complemented Hayden so well. India's current opener Murali Vijay also believes in holding one end up even as Shikhar Dhawan cannot hold himself back from going after the bowling. For that matter, even Chris Rogers is the exact opposite of Warner. But, the bottom line is that the generation of two block it out openers is out of the way.
--By A Cricket Analyst