Three is still the magic num­ber for our se­lec­tors

The ed­i­tor of Cricket Statis­ti­cian analy­ses re­cent events


By the time you read this, the team will be picked and we will have some idea of who the se­lec­tors see as Eng­land’s No.3 for the win­ter. The prob­lem arises be­cause of the cap­tain’s pref­er­ence for four, though it maybe takes a pro­fes­sional to tease out the dif­fer­ence.

No.3 is in many ways a pseu­doopener, picked as in­sur­ance against the first early wicket and a mini­cri­sis. If four comes in with the ball still new then it’s a full-blown cri­sis. It’s a scary thought that the con­tenders all have Test av­er­ages (ad­mit­tedly over a short pe­riod) in the 20s.

It starts hard. While Bris­bane is no longer quite so fear­some as in the days of un­cov­ered wick­ets, it is still the case that the last English bats­man to make a first-in­nings hun­dred at the Gabba was Mark Butcher (then open­ing) in 1998. And two fail­ures in the first Test of a se­ries can leave you bro­ken.

There are two pos­si­bil­i­ties. Your No.3 can be a third opener, ready to go in against the new ball when a wicket falls early, or the first of your at­tack­ers (though some­times you will have had an at­tack­ing opener, such as Bob Bar­ber in 1965/66, which then needed a cau­tious three, in that case John Edrich) but only Bar­ber and Colin Mil­burn, who never went to Aus­tralia with Eng­land, had re­ally been at­tack­ing open­ers in re­cent years.

Some­times you might have some­body who likes to bat at three.

David Gower, Ted Dex­ter and Mike Gat­ting came into that cat­e­gory, and both John Edrich and his un­cle Bill were reg­u­lar threes, as was Ian Bell, who bat­ted there in 2006.

Last time out and in 2010 it was Jonathan Trott, prob­a­bly Eng­land’s last reg­u­lar three, cer­tainly the last man who seemed at home with the po­si­tion.

Some­times (as in 2002, when Mark Butcher and Robert Key al­ter­nated) it seems a mat­ter of no great mo­ment. This year is dif­fer­ent, at least in part be­cause one of the open­ing slots is equally prob­lem­atic.

Then comes the prob­lem statis­tic. None of the likely can­di­dates to bat at two, three, or five has man­aged to av­er­age over 30 in their (short) Test ca­reers so far (apart from Gary Bal­lance). Very few suc­cess­ful Test bats­men start so slowly. This is rather more pointed be­cause Moeen Ali, Bairstow, Stokes and Woakes all do so.

Per­haps Eng­land should just move them all up three places and look again for what they need.

Mak­ing his Mark: Mark Butcher was the last English­man to make a first-in­nings Test hun­dred at the Gabba, in 1998

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