How good is England's middle order?
England's middle order has been in the news lately, and for all the wrong reasons: in six innings at Headingley, their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 scored a grand total of 16 runs, the fewest for England in matches in which the team played both innings, thus allowing Australia to exact revenge for the humiliation they had suffered 113 years ago (almost to the day), when their three middle-order batsmen scored the same number of runs at The Oval. (That isn't the record, though, for the fewest runs scored by Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in a Test - South Africa's three batsmen scored 10 fewer runs against England in 1955.)
The likes of Graham Thorpe and Kevin Pietersen have done their bit to boost the stock of the England middle order since 2000, but for the most part they've still been a below-par unit. During this period, England's Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 have a combined average of 38.57, with 80 centuries from 126 Tests. England have also used 37 players during this period, which is second only to West Indies' 40.
Australia, the leaders of the pack, have only used 25 middle-order batsmen for the 110 Tests they've played since 2000, and they've averaged 49.41, more than 10 runs higher than England. Also, in 16 fewer Tests than England, they've notched up 18 more centuries. India's power-packed middle order is next, and the stability of their line-up is obvious from the fact that only 24 batsmen have occupied these slots, the fewest among all teams. Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan follow closely, but England are better than only three teams - New Zealand, whose lower order has often bailed them out with the bat, and Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
|Team||No. of batsmen||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s|
|Sri Lanka||26||91||25, 136||46.03||65/ 106|
|South Africa||29||106||27,379||44.01||72/ 132|
|West Indies||40||105||27,266||39.63||65/ 133|
|New Zealand||30||75||16,795||35.28||32/ 83|
England's numbers have been pulled down by several batsmen who played in the middle order for reasonably long periods but performed with far less distinction than their counterparts in other top teams. Alec Stewart's wicketkeeping was admittedly a huge bonus, but he averaged only 32 in 56 innings when he batted in the middle order. Mark Ramprakash, who has been the flavour of the week for a nation desperately looking for a saviour, wasn't much better, averaging 32.47 in 17 tries. Andrew Flintoff's batting abilities probably warranted a No. 7 slot, but he batted higher than that quite often, and averaged less than 33. Nasser Hussain brought plenty to the table with his dogged leadership qualities, but as a batsman his numbers are clearly less than exceptional. The stats are somewhat similar for the man who succeeded him as captain: Michael Vaughan had a couple of outstanding series as batsman, but over the course of his career he failed to do justice to his potential.
|Graeme Hick||14||264||18.85||1/ 0|
|Owais Shah||10||269||26.90||0/ 2|
|Robert Key||23||694||31.54||1/ 3|
|Alec Stewart||56||1632||32.00||3/ 8|
|Mark Ramprakash||17||552||32.47||1/ 1|
|Andrew Flintoff||70||2111||32.98||3/ 17|
|Ravi Bopara||14||468||33.42||3/ 0|
|Nasser Hussain||89||2846||35.13||6/ 20|
|Michael Vaughan||70||2507||37.98||8/ 9|
Among the ones who did justice to their place in the middle order are Thorpe, Pietersen and Paul Collingwood. Thorpe had 25 fifty-plus knocks in 74 innings, while Pietersen averaged more than 50 till his last Test, when a tally of 76 runs in two innings brought his career average down to 49.96.
The two other batsmen who've averaged more than 40 during this period are Mark Butcher and Ian Bell. Butcher scored only six hundreds in 71 innings, but three of those came against Australia and South Africa. Bell has an average of 40.94 in his 81 innings in the middle order, but against Australia his average drops to 24.60. Butcher, on the other hand, averaged 40.73 against the Aussies.
|Graham Thorpe||74||3145||53.30||10/ 15|
|Alastair Cook||12||578||52.54||2/ 2|
|John Crawley||13||454||50.44||1/ 2|
|Kevin Pietersen||97||4647||49.96||16/ 15|
|Paul Collingwood||87||3455||44.29||9/ 15|
|Mark Butcher||71||2731||41.37||6/ 17|
|Ian Bell||81||2948||40.94||8/ 19|
Looking at more detailed middle-order stats against the best team during this period, it's clear that England's batsmen have mostly underperformed. India lead the way in terms of averages against Australia since 2000 - among the middle-order batsmen, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid all average more than 45, with Laxman averaging 61.24. South Africa are next, with AB de Villiers averaging an outstanding 75, while Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy both average more than 45. England are in sixth place, with an average almost 13 runs fewer than India's. Pietersen is the only one to have played more than three Tests against Australia and average more than 45.
England's numbers are still much better than Pakistan's, whose middle order averages a meagre 26. They've only played six Tests against Australia during this period, though, while India have played 20 and England 24.
|Team||Innings||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Overall ave|
|South Africa||137||4759||37.47||9/ 26||29.23|
|West Indies||120||4038||36.05||12/ 16||24.45|
|Sri Lanka||56||1802||32.76||3/ 8||25.99|
|New Zealand||99||2844||29.62||3/ 16||24.83|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo