In the first of our series statistically examining the key clashes of the 2017/18 Ashes series, it’s Alastair Cook v David Warner, the teams’ contrasting pair of world-class openers.
There can be little argument that Alastair Cook and David Warner are the best Test openers of the current era – no opener has scored more runs than either of them this decade, and they also have the best pair of averages for players who have scored more than 1,500 runs in the top two since January 1, 2010.
But can it be definitively answered which of the two holds the outright title of ‘the best opener in the world’? We use CricViz’s stats database to find out.
Going by the simplest metric, batting average, Cook and Warner are very similar, though Warner has a slight edge – the Englishman averages 46.33 to the Australian’s 47.94. Beyond that however, they could hardly be more different. Warner’s strike-rate (77.28) is much higher than Cook’s (46.95), Warner averages more against pace (52.77) than spin (40.00), while for Cook the opposite is true – Cook averages 43.24 against pace and 54.47 against spin. Cook also averages more on the back foot (59.54) than the front foot (43.93), while Warner is stronger on the front foot (57.14 vs 46.62).
Cook is known for his ability to make really big scores, and it’s an area where he has the edge over Warner. Cook’s average score in innings when he gets to a hundred is 169, while Warner’s is just 149.
Warner has a reputation as something of a home-track bully, and it’s not unjustified – he averages 59.21 down under, compared to just 38.30 away, and has scored 14 of his 20 Test centuries at home. Cook’s record is more balanced. He averages 45.02 at home and 47.90 away, and has more Test centuries away than at home. His average in Australia – 49.53 – is also excellent, but not the match of Warner’s.
One area of similarity is their records against bowling of each length – Cook is stronger than Warner against the short ball, though both are excellent – averages 85.52 and 70.27 respectively – and slightly weaker against balls on a length – Cook averages 28.83 to Warner’s 33.75. There are, however, two major areas of difference. Cook’s record against balls which are back of a length is superb (average of 63.62), but Warner’s (43.43) – while still good – is some way behind. Worryingly for England, while Warner has never been dismissed by a Test match yorker, Cook averages just 16.57 against toe-crushers, something which will have Mitchell Starc licking his lips.
So who’s better? As is so often the case, it can be argued either way. Maybe we should just celebrate that this game allows to two players be so different and yet so successful. Either way, whoever has the better series will probably end up on the winning team.