The Ashes: We know who the openers are but who bats number 3 for Australia?

Darren Lehmann is off and running as the coach of the Australian cricket team and has started his “reign” by confirming before the last trial game before the 1st Test that Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will be the opening for Australia come 10 July. That decision means that neither of the incumbents from the last test match played by Australia, David Warner and Ed Cowan, will be retaining their former positions in the team.

Obviously, the Australian cricket team is in a state of flux with the appointment of a new coach and the only secure places in the batting order seemingly the openers (now that their positions have been confirmed) and that of the captain, wherever he decides to bat. That means that the number 3 position (assuming M Clarke doesn’t bow to the pressure of I Chappell and bat there) is up for grabs for the following contenders: P Hughes (the incumbent), D Warner, E Cowan and U Khawaja.

I think it would be fair to say that the issue of “who bats number 3?” has oft been a vexed question in Australian cricket. Regularly the best batsman in the team has been tapped on the shoulder to be the number 3 batsman. In this regard one only needs to look at where players like Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and Greg Chappell spent the bulk of their careers in the Australia team. The only time that that standard does not seem to hold true is when the captain is also the best batsman in the team and declines to bat in that position. The eras of Allan Border and Steve Waugh are instructive in that context.

So if the best batsman in the team is the captain and declines to bat at number 3 what style of batsman should be invested with the obligation of going in at the time the first wicket goes down. In my opinion one only needs to consider the efforts of David Boon to come to the conclusion that the style of batsman that ought be given the role of number 3, in the absence of the best batsman in the team (which is not to say that Boon at points was not that batsman but I think it would be fair to say that when he started batting at 3 he was not), is an established opener. With David Boon at number 3 from the 1989 Ashes tour (bearing in mind that he had batted at 3 before this point) Australia was blessed with a batsman who had spent some 20 test matches at the top of the order for almost 1,500 runs at an average of 36.85. More to the point, in Boon Australia possessed someone who was extremely experienced in going in against the new ball such that if he was in early he was used to it.

Now at this point I am sure many of you are saying: so? We have Phil Hughes batting at number 3 for Australia and he is a former opener for his country so surely, based on your own measure, Hughes must get the gig? Simply though I do not believe that Hughes is good enough form to play the role that D Boon did for Australia for all of those years post 1989 and particularly not so for an Ashes series. Hughes is, after all, in his third coming as an Australian test cricketer and in this coming has been pigeon holed as a number 3 batsman. In his 7 test matches back in the test team he has scored 380 runs in 13 innings at an average of 29.23 and is without a hundred in that span. That is simply not good enough and I am of the view that a change needs to be made for the first test.

So which of the other contenders should be selected in Hughes’ place (if that change is made). I suspect that Darren Lehmann would be looking to avoid having a change at number 3 that would see another player who has not been in the test team of recent times in the team so that, unfortunately, counts out Usman Khawaja. Whilst I think he is a player of the future he has not done enough in my view in the preliminary games to make his selection a foregone conclusion. With avoiding too much change in mind I think Lehmann will avoid using Khawaja at number 3 on 10 July.

That makes the race for the other position in the “engine room” (as D Boon used to call it) between Ed Cowan and David Warner. Have there been two more contrasting styles in Australian cricket than these two players? As good a starting point as any is to consider their records over the last 12 months:

Cowan Warner

All told then there is not much difference between the two records save that Warner has scored more fifties and Cowan occupies the crease longer. Who should Darren Lehmann go for then come 10 July? Importantly, both records are largely commensurate with that of David Boon before he became Australia’s first choice number 3 batsmen albeit the strike rate of Boon is closer to that of Cowan than that of Warner.

I think it is important here to also consider the preparation of both players in advance of this first test. I have written earlier about trials and tribulations of David Warner this year. In raw cricket terms his lead in to the first test has consisted of playing in the IPL 20/20 competition, 2 games in the Champions Trophy and then a long stint on the sidelines (and no doubt practicing in the nets) as he serves his suspension for punching Joe Root.

Conversely, Ed Cowan has spent the start of the English summer playing first class cricket for Nottinghamshire. By the end of Australia’s current trial game against Worcestershire he will have played 9 first class games in English conditions. His form for Nottinghamshire in his 7 games for them has been solid without being flashy scoring 478 runs at 43.45. A final key point on Cowan’s run in to the first test is, that if selected, he will be playing on his home ground (for Nottinghamshire) Trent Bridge.

A final consideration here is the style of players Cowan and Warner are: can anyone cogently argue that they would feel more comfortable with Warner walking out to the crease with the score on 1/0 than Ed Cowan? I, for one, shudder at the thought of Warner coming to the crease with the score one down for not many.

All of the foregoing considered then, it must be pretty obvious the way I am leaning. If Phil Hughes is not selected, as I believe he ought not be, then I am firmly of the view that Ed Cowan should be Australia’s number 3 for the first test at Trent Bridge. The statistics, the lead in form and the stylistic considerations all point that way.

5 responses

  1. Dear Mr Shumpty

    Long time listener, first time caller. I enjoy your ramblings, often wonder why you bother to go to such depth, but appreciate your balanced and always well researched views.

    I’m not the rugby lover you clearly are but cricket I could discuss until the early hours. And so cricket is again topical and in this discussion the make up of the first test team.

    I don’t recall a time when our team make up has been so unclear. Perhaps I could lean on your here for statistical backup but I’d suggest its been awhile since we’ve gone in, as a viewing public, only knowing 7, and you might even correct me on that, definite starter in the 11.

    So if I can start there and work backwards to my final 11. And it can only be mine, as you have yours, and every interested punter has their own they will rarely be the same. But isn’t that great! I love the discussion. So much so I’m driven to reply to a frustrated sports journalist stuck in a solicitors body. And good work on operation100 by the way. Keep it up.

    So we know Watson and Rogers. I’d originally thought Rogers at 3 and Cowan at 2 but Boof declared he was playing the horses for courses card early and with Rogers UK form irresistible, why not? We also know Clarke will bat 4 and Haddin is going to keep. Haddin to bat 6. That’s four and I said seven for definite. I’ll go with the out and out pace of Pattinson, the left arm inswinging can-swing-a-game-in-a-spell Starc and the offspin of Lyon.

    Side bar here. I like Lyon. I was pleased to read your ramble on the hard road he’s had to travel. He doesn’t often bowl poorly. He’s in.

    To find my number 3 I’m going to look more to Boofs operando of aggressive cricket and put Hughes in. He’s spent a lot of time in the UK since last being axed, had a lead up with AusA and has been pretty damn good. He also has the capacity to bat the chameleon role of either filling the aggressive Watson or the accumulating Rogers’ boots when first wicket falls. Team structure remains intact and allows our top3 to play with more freedom. Let’s face it, Watson needs to fire for us to win but he’s going ok so far.

    5 and 7 are genuine mysteries for me. Cowan, Khawaja, Warner & Smith. 4 to become 2. I think Cowan is gone. He doesn’t fit Boofs idea of the freewheeling cricketer he’s looking for. Warner, while the polar opposite, too is on the outer. He’ll get back eventually but for now time to eat some I-need-to-be-more-consistent humble pie. That gives new Queenslander Khawaja first crack at 5 and the been-given-a-golden-ride Smith at 7. Smith, while I’m an open basher of Smith believing he never earned his early way to the top as much as he should have, seems to be coping better with recent outings. No stats, just a feeling.

    Faulkner will be a star. Boof will but him at 8 and I won’t be surprised if he wins us a test this series with either bat or ball. He also gives our batting great depth. Pattinson at 9 and Starc at 10 is a pretty fair line up and one I have no doubt we’ll need with the outstanding English attack.

    Warner will carry the drinks. More penance.

    So there you have it. My 12. Thanks for allowing me the forum to vent. My wife just won’t listen. Cheers.

    • Mr Baird,

      Thank you for the reply and thank you reading. I love going into the detail and enjoy the writing: a man has to have a hobby afterall.

      I think you are right on the state of flux the team is presently in. I reckon you would have to go back to the bad days of the 80s post Chappell, Lillee and Marsh’s retirement for a time of such uncertainty in our selection and available players.

      Thanks for the wrap on Operation 100: still some work to do but am pretty happy with where I am at so far.

      Thank you for posting your team. Your point around Hughes is a good one and despite my personal view that it is time for a change I think you are right that he will be picked by Boof for Trent Bridge.

      I agree too with your views on Warner’s return. In fact we agree on the inclusion of Khawaja and Smith. How good has Smith’s run in been? He is a must pick for mine.

      With the ball: Starc and Pattinson select themselves. I can not pick Siddle on form which leaves Faulkner, Harris and Bird. I reckon we will see a lot of Faulkner in the future but have a question mark over two left armers, particularly if Watson is not bowling a lot. Bird hoops the ball which I like but I think we need to make a statement in the first test and for that I am leaning toward Harris. He hits the gloves hard and moves it both ways.

      I can not believe some of the so called experts are calling for Agar’s inclusion. Lyon is the man for mine and, as you point out, he has to be the hardest done by player in Australian cricket at the moment!

      So my team is: Watson, Rogers, Cowan, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Smith, Starc, Harris, Pattinson, Lyon.

      Can’t wait for it all to start now! Only 5 more sleeps!

      • 5 more sleeps you say? It’s like waiting for Santa Claus. It can’t come quick enough.

        I began pondering my selections as soon as I’d “hung up the phone”. And exactly as you point out, is Faulkner the right fit at this time? I believe my original bowling line up of Pattinson, Starc, Faulkner and Lyon with support from Watson does look a bit thin. So it needs to be bolstered. Bolstered by either changing personel (Faulkner for either Harris, Bird or Siddle) or perhaps a batsman for a bowler?

        And boy doesn’t that open up another discussion set, the composition of the team. We have heard the rhetoric that to win you must take 20 wickets. But if your batsmen make a substandard total the opposition can drop anchor and crawl their way to victory. Ahh the conundrum.

        I suspect that with the strength of the English attack Boof will opt for the extra batsman. That’s Smith at 7. You go the other way and you’re asking a lot of Faulkner. Faulkner at 8 will add value, at 7 he could disappoint. Remember in our heyday Gilchrist came in at 7.

        The bowling line up looks solid though; add Harris to the previous mentioned group and you’d feel like winning the toss and putting them in. Have Smith at 7 we bat.

        Just to back up a little I agree with your selection of Harris over Bird and Siddle. Siddle shouldn’t play. I say shouldn’t because part of our make up is loyalty and if he got picked it could only that. But at some point it has to end. I think it ended when Boof came on board. I hope it did. Both Harris and Bird offer so much more. To swing the ball at pace makes life difficult for anyone. Anderson is the perfect model.

        I’m pretty sure Boof would love Harris to be the man. If he pulls a 4 or 5-for tonight he’s in. He’s probably in even if he doesn’t. As our Englishman pointed out Pattinson and Starc are raw so the experience of Harris will count for a lot. Bird doesn’t quite give that same base stability. He could handle it and if anyone goes down he’ll step up and probably exceed expectations, but in the end, I agree, Boof will go with Harris.

        So the late change to my 12 is Faulkner out, Harris in.

        Watson, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Smith, Harris, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon and Warner 12th.

        But that could change as soon as I hit “post comment”. Gotto love it!

        Should I be reading anything into Khawaja not playing in this final lead up game? Probably.

  2. Two excellent posts.

    As an Englishman, I am naturally merciful and in no way complacent.

    One of the genuine fears I had was of Ricky Ponting playing himself into the form of his life for Surrey and then getting a desperate 2AM call from a pissed up Darren Lehmann (is he ever not pissed up?) and returning for, say, the 3rd Test batting at either 5 or 6. Thankfully Ponting seems to be aimlessly scratching around for not very many, 192 at Derbyshire aside, so I don’t think there’s much chance of that occurring and instead we could have a bit of a bloodbath in that middle order, especially if Clarke mans up and exposes himself to the new ball by batting at 3.

    You’ll forgive me for contemplating that unlikely Punter scenario when I put it into context: I still have fears of Glenn McGrath coming out of retirement, hitting that length, spitting feathers, labelling England as ‘shit’, predicting 5-0 series wins for Australia, naming which batsman he will get out the most (I’d go Ian Bell), and generally defacing my usually affable nature.

    In the absence of that horrible, horribly good line and length hitter, I’d lean towards Jackson Bird. Not physically of course, but in terms of team selection. I saw enough of him against Sri Lanka to recognise a chap who enjoys a line and length, controls the new ball and gets movement either way. It surprised me not to see Hilfenhaus in the touring party too, especially when I was reading some guff about Peter Siddle being an ‘attack leader’. I’ve decided, without really seeing them, that Pattinson and Starc are too raw to play both of them in the same team.

    Henceforth my team would look like this:

    Hayden, Rogers, Ponting, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Faulkner, Warne, Starc, Bird, McGrath

    Or in the absence of those who’re apparently retired (more like mercilessly awaiting England to be crap again so they can return and brutally demolish us)

    Watson, Rogers, Cowan, Clarke, Khawaja, Warner, Haddin, Faulkner, Pattinson, Bird, Lyon

    Now there appears to be quite a few bowlers who bat or vice-versa in the Australian squad. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not as although it lends balance to the side, can you really see Watson or Faulkner having much in the tank to worry England with if Bird, Pattinson etc dont take wickets? Is it really enough that Pattinson and Starc might add 20-30 runs apiece down the order if the top 6 have crumbled to 100-6? I don’t know.

    I think the series will be close, though, because England aren’t too grand themselves.

    • Sorry, in the haste to add in my unwanted and poorly backed-up opinions I completely ignored the article’s title. The answer is Cowan. He’s not great but bar Rogers he’s the best prepared and has the best mindset for how to play against the new ball in England.

      I’d have gone Compton for England too, for very similar reasons.

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