A quick Sunday stat
As I write, Broad and Prior are launching a spectacular Headingley-81-style fightback – a blazing partnership that has so far brought 22 defiant runs in just 20-odd minutes. Whether this develops into the 350-plus stand that might give Graham Onions a chance to do a Bob Willis remains to be seen, so, with the game still poised so delicately in the balance, here is a statistic for you.
England’s number 3, 4 and 5 have in this game posted the worst ever Test performance by and England 3-4-5. The worst. In 890 Tests. Even counting matches when nightwatchmen have broken up the 3-4-5. Even in 19th-century games when the wickets sometimes literally had snakes in them. Ouch. (Counting only games in which numbers 3, 4 and 5 have been dismissed twice, which seems fair in the circumstances.)
Bopara, Bell and Collingwood mustered 16 runs between them in their six innings. Even by the most positive-taking of modern standards, this was ‘a bit disappointing’ and ‘something that needs building on’.
In fact it was the equal third worst performance by numbers 3 to 5 in the batting order in all Test history (excluding South Africa at Melbourne in 1931-2, when they used a completely different 3-5 in the second innings, to spectacular effect – Bell, Mitchell and Cameron managed to double the 5 runs accumulated by Christy, Taylor an Viljoen in the first).
South Africa can proudly claim both first and second place in this list of shame. They managed 12 in a Test in 1888-89, at a time when they still pretty much pitched up at the ground and asked passers-by if they fancied a game of cricket for a couple of days. And, least triumphantly of all, Keith, Endean and McLean – not the worst 3-5 in Test history by any measure – amassed 6 runs in the 1955 Oval Test. Scores of 5, 0 and 1 in the first innings paved the way for three second-knock ducks as Laker and Lock filled their spinny boots on a turning wicket.
So at least Bopara, Bell and Collingwood can claim to have done 166% better than the 1955 South African 3-to-5. A small consolation as they take their place in English cricket’s slightly embarrassed history books.
[A quick update – Prior is out. I daresay the odds are now even longer the 500-1 England defied 28 years ago. But Broad has just been dropped by Siddle. Could that be the crucial turning point? No. No. No. It could not.]
For English masochists, those who dislike England for whatever reason, and those who simply love the statistics of failure, here is a list of the worst ever performances by an England 3, 4 and 5. Please ignore if you are of a sensitive disposition, or closely related to the three batsmen involved. Thanks be to Statsguru.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer