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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 writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.