December 22, 2008

Mike Holmans

Three's Company

Mike Holmans



Spare a thought this Christmas for poor Ian Bell. Unless he manages a hundred in the second innings at Mohali, he will spend the festive period wondering anxiously about his future.

There has always been an air of impermanence about Bell. He is one of those players who fails to inspire confidence even when he scores runs by the cartload. A couple of years ago, he was getting hundreds for fun at number six but there was still a general reluctance to acknowledge him as having arrived as a fixture in the Test team. When he got 199 against South Africa at Lord’s this summer, it looked for a week or two as though he had achieved acceptance but as soon as Paul Collingwood also got runs, the murmurings about him restarted.

And then came the fatal blow. He was “promoted” to bat at number three.

The main function of an England number three is to serve as the focus of the complaints about the fragile batting for a decent period before being dropped or moved to somewhere more congenial. In the last forty years, only one batsman has occupied the spot without anyone railing against him: Mike Gatting – and he only got the position because he had failed multiple times in every other slot from one to eight.

David Gower was the best batsman to try the role but it was not long before we stopped praising him for his brilliant strokeplay and started laying into him for giving third slip catching practice by feebly waving his bat at balls outside off stump. Apparently such behaviour is more acceptable in a number four, which was where Gower batted as often as he got the chance, such as when he was captain and could insist, the escape route also taken by Nasser Hussain.

Mark Butcher spent four years in the job expecting to be dropped after just about every game. If he got a hundred he reckoned he could feel safe for a game or two, but otherwise he was relieved when the team was announced for each match and he was still in it. Like Bell, he was a very pretty player to watch but he always seemed too skittish for the gravely serious position of coming in first wicket down.

But seriousness is no guarantee of public or selectorial affection. Chris Tavare was certainly grave – indeed, some even maintained that his scorelessness was because he was in fact already dead – but he simply became the butt of jokes about statues.

The only ones to escape regular opprobrium were those who were clearly only batting at three because they were not opening. One way round the eternal problem has been to pick three openers, so people like Alec Stewart, Mike Atherton, Graham Gooch, David Steele, Tim Robinson, Kim Barnett, Rob Bailey and even, heaven help us, Mike Brearley have played there, but no-one holds it against them. (There may be other reasons to recall some of them with derision, but their performances at three do not feature high on the list.)

Ian Bell is not an opener, though, so he is the latest recruit to the club most famous for including Mark Ramprakash, Graeme Hick, John Crawley and Bill Athey – batsmen reckoned to be supremely talented who somehow just didn’t cut it in Test cricket.

If England fans want a mystery to on the long winter evenings until the Caribbean trip, why we cannot unearth someone who can bat convincingly at three in our Test side seems like a good one. Answers to Geoff Miller, please.

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Posted by IVAR291 on (December 25, 2008, 16:47 GMT)

I fear Ian Bell's time, is coming to an albeit temporary end. I would have liked to see Owais Shah blooded against the Indians and feel he deserves his chance against the West Indies later this winter. I'm not convinced that Shah is of true test class and he seems to be befalling the inconsistent handling reminiscent of Vikram Solanki in the one day side. I do not see the value of continuing with Collingwood, despite his recent Century in Chennai. I'd much rather see either Bell or Shah fill Coolingwood's spot with Vaughan returning to number 3 or 4 if KP can be persuaded to bat at 3. I do not feel that Mick Vaughan merits selection but there is no doubting his class at test level despite his pretty poor recent form. The dressing room belongs to KP- his role in persuading the squad to india was instrumental and there is no doubt he is in charge. Mick Vaughan is not a threat and will be useful lieutenant alongside Strauss

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 24, 2008, 18:56 GMT)

Shah was in good form in the ODI's and England dropped him for the Tests. Bad call by England and it smacks a little of safety first.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 24, 2008, 18:54 GMT)

Why move Collingwood to three? He is fine at five as he can bat with KP and Flintoff and Prior. Give Owais Shah a chance at three. This is what I do not understand about England, they have a guy who is in form in the one dayers and they do not give him a sniff in the Tests, consequently, his confidence is undermined and he has to start convincing selectors all over again. The flat pitches would have been perfect for Shah, and he would have been in the reckoning for the Ashes if he scored a couple of fifties. Bad call by England. Give Owais Shah a chance

Posted by Chris Weston on (December 24, 2008, 10:36 GMT)

Mike, I can't remember the stats and am too lazy to look them up but I think that Hick was quite a successful number three. As for the current situation, I'd be for trying Paul Collingwood there. He's hanging around down at five or six, but he is capable of batting for long periods and has the steel to do it. KP at four, Shah at five.

Merry Christmas, anyway.

Posted by Barry on (December 23, 2008, 21:17 GMT)

Michael Vaughan? I don't think Vaughan would pick himself in the team on current form if he were being honest.

Its about time Owais Shah gets a go and at number 3. Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan can fight it out for the number 5 slot.

Posted by Barry on (December 23, 2008, 21:16 GMT)

Michael Vaughan? I don't think Vaughan would pick himself in the team on current form if he were being honest.

Its about time Owais Shah gets a go and at number 3. Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan can fight it out for the number 5 slot.

Posted by Barry on (December 23, 2008, 21:14 GMT)

Michael Vaughan? I don't think Vaughan would pick himself in the team on current form if he were being honest.

Its about time Owais Shah gets a go and at number 3. Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Michael Vaughan can fight it out for the number 5 slot.

Posted by Safaat on (December 22, 2008, 11:06 GMT)

The answer is pretty simple. Micheal Vaughan. And as far as Bell is concerned look for a spot with Collingwood for number 4. I believe KP is more effective at 5. He is doing great at 4 but for the team to do well he has to be at five. Other wise it should be between Bell and Collingwoom to grab the number 5 spot.

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