Daniel Brettig
Assistant editor, ESPNcricinfo

Australia in England 2012

Australia need Clarke at No. 3

Michael Clarke is Australia's most accomplished and fluent ODI batsman - he should be setting the agenda at the top of the order

Daniel Brettig at Edgbaston

July 4, 2012

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke hit a half-century during Australia's run chase, England v Australia, 1st ODI, Lord's, June 29, 2012
Michael Clarke is currently Australia's most accomplished batsman © PA Photos

So, rain has ensured that Australia will go home from England with the No. 1 ODI ranking still in their keeping. As far as hollow sensations go, it will be similar to that the players feel at leaving Edgbaston without seeing a single ball bowled, particularly as there are matches in the similarly grey locales of Durham and Manchester to come. Nonetheless, the weather has offered time for reflection as well as frustration, particularly on the topic of where the tourists have fallen down across two matches against opponents operating efficiently - somewhere around third gear - between Test series.

As the coach Mickey Arthur and the national selector John Inverarity have both made clear, far more certainty in Australian cricket can presently be attached to the national team's bowling stocks than to their batting. While the attack on show at Lord's and The Oval looked a little unthreatening at times, the lack of wickets was mitigated by several factors, including the number of accomplished bowlers absent and the difficulties inherent in the loss of the bowling coach Craig McDermott, so steady a guiding hand in the preceding 12 months.

While the batsmen have had to cope with the temporary absence of the eternally composed Michael Hussey due to paternity leave, the more permanent hole left at No. 3 by Ricky Ponting's omission has been plugged about as effectively as the Edgbaston drainage coped with the surfeit of rain around Birmingham. Peter Forrest, George Bailey and Shane Watson have all occupied this most pivotal position since Ponting was dropped, with only the most limited degrees of success. The shuffling has underlined the uncertainty spoken of by Arthur and Inverarity.

Their travails have gone on with the captain Michael Clarke ensconced at No. 4, one position further away from the new ball and generally holding a commission to respond to the agenda set by the top three rather than setting his own. In Test matches, Clarke has insisted on batting at No. 5, and had a highly successful first year in charge while doing so. At No. 4 in ODIs he has done similarly well, starting with a century against Bangladesh in Dhaka in his first innings as the fully fledged captain, and overall piling up 863 runs at 57.53 in 20 matches.

However the removal of Ponting from the team, and the apparent preference for Watson to open with David Warner and so provide a settled and aggressive combination at the top, has left the kind of gap that Clarke really should be filling. The position of No. 3 should go to the ODI team's most accomplished batsman, and on recent evidence there is little doubt that man is Clarke. He is no stranger to batting higher than his present station in limited-overs matches, spending time opening the batting and also at No. 3, where he has made one century - an unbeaten 111 against India at Visakhapatnam in 2010, when acting captain.

Clarke's aversion to a top-order batting spot in Test matches is understandable, given that he struggled notably at No. 4 in the year prior to his ascendancy to the captaincy. The role facing the new ball in Tests, on wickets designed to last over five days and against bowlers posting fields adorned with slips, is not the best use of Clarke's fluent but less than circumspect technique. His ability to play quality spin bowling with aggression and poise is also a significant factor in favour of his positioning in the middle order.

Ricky Ponting walks back after failing to reach 10 for the fifth successive innings, Australia v India, CB Series, Brisbane, February 19, 2012
Australia have not settled on a long-term successor to Ricky Ponting at No. 3 © Getty Images

But limited-overs cricket makes different demands on players, not least the ability to score quickly and fluently from the start, something Clarke has invariably done well. Though he is not noted as a power-hitter, Clarke can pierce fields as well as any batsman in the world, and in the early overs of an ODI has ample opportunity to do so before the circle restrictions are relaxed. The No. 3 position also affords a batsman the best opportunity outside opening of batting through an innings and making a century, something Clarke has proven himself adept at across all levels.

Plenty of attractive middle-order players in Tests have made a success of the No. 3 role at limited-overs level, enjoying the greater freedom afforded by a harder ball and restricted field settings. Australia's long-time Test match No. 3 David Boon deferred to two players commonly batting beneath him in Tests, first Dean Jones then Mark Waugh, as they were deemed the most dynamic players to push an Australia innings forward during the eras of Allan Border and Mark Taylor. Ponting batted at No. 3 for Australia in ODIs well before he became the sole occupier of the same position in Tests.

The need to pace a limited-overs innings through its various phases, from the early opportunities to score, the need to work the ball around in the middle and then to attack at the end, is also critical to the position. It requires a level of versatility that Clarke possesses in abundance. The same cannot quite be said for the others who have batted at No. 3 since Ponting.

Watson's fast starts make him an intimidating opening batsman but his tendency to stagnate in the middle overs, plus his concerns about bowling workloads and his general energy levels mean he is less likely to see an innings out. Forrest's runs are scored at a steady pace but he lacks the authority to hold such a pivotal position. Bailey has shown himself capable of batting in various positions, but is still getting established and is naturally intent on establishing himself at the crease and in the team before he worries about laying down a marker for the rest.

In contrast, Clarke is very capable of setting that agenda, and for the moment is the Australia batsman most capable of doing the job in ODIs. It may not be his personal preference, but Clarke has long stated that his priorities must be identical to those of his team. When Australia's first wicket falls at Durham, England would much prefer to see Forrest or Bailey walking out, rather than Clarke dictating terms with a promotion. His elevation to No. 3 would be a far more significant and worthwhile step for the tourists on this trip than the rain-assisted retention of the ICC's top ranking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by A_Vacant_Slip on (July 6, 2012, 21:00 GMT)

@jimmy2s "Rain in New Zealand is the only reason England retained the top test ranking..."! What on Earth are you talking about!? Comedy Boy! How can New Zealand be blamed for South Africa number 2??? Only reason South Africa is number 2 - they cannot beat ultra-weak minnow team like India and Australia in their own fine African home. Correct this deficiency and South Africa could be class "number one" with full legitimacy. Till then is best to realise that England are at home here - you make mistake if you discount them.

Posted by JG2704 on (July 6, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

@jimmy2s on (July 04 2012, 22:00 PM GMT) Was rain also the reason you dropped home tests against SL and Australia and the fact that your side hasn't beaten a top 4 side home or away for over 3 years ?

Posted by whatawicket on (July 6, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

jimmys2 dont use rain as an excuse to the saffers not been #1. look at your home record, thats the reason you are not in that position. last few years eng can look at games we should have won. if an aussie umpire had turned on his sound mike the last time we played SA that game might have changed. its cricket rain it is part an parcel of this great game.

Posted by Hammond on (July 6, 2012, 9:36 GMT)

Pup was never a number 3. He may have to fill that role though as there isn't anyone in Australia good enough to fill even a hard handed decrepit Ponting at 3.

Posted by Meety on (July 6, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

@Andrew Sanderson - I like that idea - although more about Christian coming up the order - when there are power plays on.

Posted by zenboomerang on (July 6, 2012, 7:10 GMT)

Very funny reading all those bagging Oz & that the batting is dead - after all, this is just a made up story with no factual basis backing it up... Where Clarke bats is up to Clarke - he has the duty to pick the batting order as he is the captain... What is a problem is the selection of players to fill the top 3 in ODI's & the top 4 in Tests... Still very much a moot point which all Oz fans see as not being settled at all atm...

Posted by   on (July 6, 2012, 7:09 GMT)

I think the answer is simple. No 3 has to be a batsman who can play through the innings and score a century, maybe at a strike rate of over 80. In the current lot since lHussey is not available it has to be only Clarke. He can score hundreds like Warner can. I am not sure of the others. I do feel that Clarke knows his importance to the team and perhaps is more comfortable to come in when the ball is older at least in England where the ball moves more than in other parts of the world. But I am not sure that is serving the purpose as Forrest did not hang around for too long. However in all fairness these people must be given more chances and speaking of chances why is Callum Ferguson not being given an extended run. He was a certainty before getting injured. Why must he fight to make runs to get back into the team ? He has more strokes and ability to rotate the strike better than Bailey for instance. Difficult times, maybe ponting has a place for another year at least Ramanujam sridhar

Posted by   on (July 6, 2012, 6:02 GMT)

I'd like to see Australia try something a little different and not have a set batting order outside of the openers, and put in a batsman at the fall of the wicket that reflects the needs of the game. If the openers are bogged down at the fall of a wicket, put someone in that can counter that. If they were racing along, put someone in that can keep the runs flowing. Keep a steady player back in case of a collapse, etc.

Posted by RandyOZ on (July 6, 2012, 4:57 GMT)

Much like Tendulkar, as long as he continues to hide at 4 or 5 he will never be held in the same class as Ponting. Come on Pup, step up to the plate.

Posted by Meety on (July 6, 2012, 1:56 GMT)

@RightArmEverything - when I read his comment I started by going "here, here", then I read the next bit & rolled my eyes - ah well!

Posted by arup_g on (July 5, 2012, 14:40 GMT)

It's great to see the Aussies struggling and worrying about a lack of batsmen...something we haven't seen in the past 15 years!! Replacing Ponting is close to impossible, and I agree that Michael Clarke needs to step up and bat at 3. He is clearly Australia's most accomplished batsmen, and is the type who can bat throughout the innings and the others score around him. Forrest is not technically able enough to bat at 3.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (July 5, 2012, 14:04 GMT)

This problem is not limited to Australia. With few exceptions, all of the world's best batsmen are on the wrong side of 30. Ponting, Hussey, Chanderpaul, Kallis, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Tendulkar, Khan etc are all still playing test matches for a reason, because they're still amongst the best batsmen in the world despite being in the twilight of their careers and no-one better has come along to replace them. Clarke, Amla and Trott appear young by comparison, but they're all on the wrong side of 30 as well. The only really good young talent I've seen so far is Cook and maybe Warner or Kohli and that's about it so far. With no really outstanding spinners out there (Swann/Lyon/Ajmal vs Murali/Warne/Kumble? No contest), it's the fast bowlers who appear to be enjoying this era which is why it's no surprise to see Eng/SA/Aus on top with players such as Anderson, Broad, Finn, Tremlett, Bresnan, Steyn, Philander, Pattinson, Harris, Cummins.

Posted by RightArmEverything on (July 5, 2012, 13:21 GMT)

@RyanHarrisGreatCricketer, you just bagged Forrest after arguing that people are being too impatient and critical of new players.

Posted by   on (July 5, 2012, 12:33 GMT)

Aussies need callum fergusson to bat at no 3 . What did he do wrong other that sitting out on injury. he has a better average in international cricket , which is in 40's, considered too good for ODI's.he would be my natural No 3 followed by peter forrest and clarke @5 and david hussey filling in his big brothers shoes @6 with wade to bat 7. No 8,9,10 and 11 should be pattinson, Cummins, Siddle/harris and Doherty. Hussey and clarke can contribute as part timers.

Posted by Hammond on (July 5, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

@RyanHarrisGreatCricketer - tis because Australians can't bear to lose to England, they never rate them nor give them any respect as opposition. The selectors too seem to react violently when someone performs poorly against England. Overall it's like an anglo-complex affecting the whole country.

Posted by skkh on (July 5, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

The sooner we accept the fact that at present we are a mediocre side and will stay such for some time, it will be better for us. Ponting was shown the door in anticipation of Forrest and others doing well. Forrest is not the solution. We have to persist with Shaun Marsh and Usman for a length of time to get the required results. Watson our best batsman gets satiated at 50 odd and it is not often that he reaches this stage. Warner has more off days than one can imagine. Clarke is too flashy and chancy and his scores against the listless and disinterested Indians is no yard stick. So where is our batting? If we are investing for the future lets do it with Shaun and Mitch Marsh, Usman, Hughes and others and have some patience. We will not win many matches (we are not winning any now) but with time we will and these young blokes will have settled down.

Posted by Meety on (July 5, 2012, 11:39 GMT)

@RightArmEverything - why not DHussey @ #3? He is experienced, has played for Vic in the #3 or #4 slot. I just get a bit edgy about changing a strength to fix a weakness - I'd rather fix the weakness. I want someone who could take advantage of the powerplays, maybe even MHussey (short term fix) or Dan Christian maybe?

Posted by RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on (July 5, 2012, 9:08 GMT)

When did Aussies become so impatient and start criticising players after so little games? Bailey is class player of spin and a good player of short pitched bowling. Definitely better than Peter Forrest who is bad against bouncers and cant totate thee strike

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 5, 2012, 8:36 GMT)

One of either Watson or Warner is currently getting out too early for Clarke to come in at 3. As I've been saying throughout this series, Clarke is best left at 4, unless the openers can hang around for longer. Clarke is not an opener, and the way Warner/Watson are playing and getting out for 10-odd, Clarke coming in at 3 would effectively just be the same as opening. Since the remaining two games are effectively meaningless (rankings wise), why don't Australia try opening with Warner and Wade, and shift Watson down the order so he can save energy for bowling (which is needed!).

Posted by JG2704 on (July 5, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

I still say Aus miss Hussey senior big time. Maybe if they had him coming in at 6 then MC coming in at 3 would be more viable?

Posted by popcorn on (July 5, 2012, 8:00 GMT)

I do not agree. Look at the recent history of Australian Test Captains or their best batsmen.Allan Border batted at Mumber 5, Mark Taylor opened the innings, Steve Waugh batted at Number 5, Ricky Ponting made the Number 3 spot his own by his prolific batting. Michael Clarke made his debut at Number 5, scored prolifically at that position, failed when he was pushed up to Number 4, began scoring again at Number 5 with the Captaincy as an additional responsibility.When Peter Forrest batted at Number 3 in Ricky Ponting's place, he scored steadily, and made a century too. Granted he's had a lean patch, but he was discarded for this Tour and came in only because Mike Hussey had to stay behind. Give him some time to cement himself, please.

Posted by RightArmEverything on (July 5, 2012, 7:58 GMT)

Actually agree with Brettig on this occasion. If Forrest and Bailey are going to be selected, they're not really suited to #3. They don't really have the ability to take control of an innings the way Clarke can. Ideally, in a stronger batting line-up Clarke would stay at #4 but with the team struggling at the moment I think he should step up and take on the #3 spot. He's been in very good form recently and can score quickly these days. The team needs more batsmen scoring centuries to base their innings around and Warner, Watson and Clarke the the most likely batsmen to do that so should be taking up the first 3 spots.

Posted by tasliskr on (July 5, 2012, 7:29 GMT)

use david hussey as no3 batsman.he got experience and mental strength to bat...he bats @no3 for victoria..then our attacking nature of batting line up won't be missed

Posted by   on (July 5, 2012, 6:59 GMT)

Nah. Big mistake. You need your most attacking players in the top 3. Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting were formidable. Michael Clarke is good in the middle overs against the spin, he'll get bogged down at the top of the order. Remember when he tried to promote himself to 3 in the 2020 side? DIfferent format but he still couldnt pierce the field. They obviously got rid of Ponting prematurely- how they thought Peter Forrest and George Bailey would be better replacements God knows. It was only a year ago that Ponting scored a lone hand 100 in the world cup quarter final when every1 else collapsed around him. And then again it was Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke's dumb shots that started the collapse. If he's good enough to play Test cricket, he's not going to suddenly have forgotten how to play one day cricket. He's always been a natural strokeplayer anyway............

Posted by landl47 on (July 5, 2012, 3:54 GMT)

Australia's problem is not that they need Michael Clarke at #3, it's that they need 3 more Michael Clarkes.

Posted by Mad_Hamish on (July 5, 2012, 3:36 GMT)

bantersaurus, considering that Watson averages 45.84 with a strike rate of 92.16 as an opener and Warner averages 33.64 with a strike rate of 85.48 I don't see any reason to move Watson out of the opening spot. Klinger is a moderate one day performer in domestics although he had a good season last year and at 32 isn't exactly a big pick for the future. Quiney has _1_ list A 100 from 46 innings, I'd like a few more than that before picking him although he has a fair number of 50s and a good strike rate. Phil Hughes has a list A strike rate of under 75 so not exactly inspiring. Cameron White averaged 16.28 last summer with a strike rate under 70. Christian averaged 22.50 with the bat last year and didn't make a 50. Ferguson might be worth a recall, he's done pretty reasonably before and had a pretty good summer in the domestics

Posted by Hammond on (July 5, 2012, 2:53 GMT)

RandyOZ- now you are really making no sense. Ponting isn't even the 2nd greatest "Australian" batsman after Bradman let alone the 2nd best overall. Clarke as good as Tendulkar? You must be joking. Australia at the moment just needs batsman full stop. The cupboard is particularly bare at the moment, and with techniques going downhill amongst the youth of Australia (and cricket participation dropping) this may be a problem for a very, very long time.

Posted by bantersaurus on (July 5, 2012, 2:42 GMT)

I don't agree with this at all Clarke is best used at 4 and Watson should be coming in at 5. It is going to be a long time before we get a Gilchrist-Hayden/M.Waugh opening pair with Ponting in at 3 and we could just flick the tv on after 20 overs and 9 times out of 10 we would be 1/100 those days are long gone and we've tried and failed to fill those boots. It is time to go back to basics and pick 2 opening batsman to sit at 2 and 3 which would give Warner the freedom to do as he pleases. Clarke and Watson to come in after that can score at any pace then Hussey to come in and finish it off. In my opinion those 2 opening batsman should be Quiney and Klinger both with true techniques and in the best form at the moment.

Posted by jeauxx on (July 5, 2012, 1:51 GMT)

I don't disagree with you Dan, but I think Australia's interests are best served trying to find a more permanent no. 3 batsman and let Clarke have his middle order spot. Admittedly right now he's definitely the best option for first drop, I think in the long term Phil Hughes may well prove himself the aggressive yet reliable option at 3 that Ponting upheld for so long. At least that's what I'm hoping for.

Posted by Meety on (July 4, 2012, 23:47 GMT)

Not a fan of moving Clarke from a position of strength (#4) to the #3 position. I'd rather see Oz think outside the box & select Christian @ #3, & IF the signs are right & White is running into form, I'd give him a crack #3. Clarke is perfect for the middle overs, he is a very good runner between wickets (run out with Wade being an exception), is an accumulator, which fits well with the middle over tempo.

Posted by RandyOZ on (July 4, 2012, 22:56 GMT)

Clarke will never live up to Ponting, who is the 2nd greatest batsman after Bradman for a rason, if he doesn't bat at 3. If he continues to bat at 4 or 5 he will be a good but not great batsman, somewhere around Tendulkar's legacy.

Posted by applethief on (July 4, 2012, 22:00 GMT)

Rain in New Zealand is the only reason England retained the top test ranking, surely they've proven this to be a legitimate way to hold the spot

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (July 4, 2012, 21:19 GMT)

More desperation from Australia. Yes England are far superior in all forms of cricket, but watching Australian selectors squirm is something we've all grown used to in recent years. Clarke is the best they'we got, which really isn't saying much. What would they give for players like Swann, Anderson and Cook?

Posted by sifter132 on (July 4, 2012, 20:55 GMT)

Agree with Clarke at #3, not just from a quality standpoint, but your 'field piercing' argument. Clarke is often caught out in the middle overs trying to pierce fields too precisely rather than hitting the middle of the bigger gaps. That means he'll hit fieldsmen more than he should. In the first 10 overs that's not so important, but building up dot balls in the middle is more dangerous.

The only disadvantage is trying to find someone with his assurance against spin to replace him down lower. It's OK vs England with only 10 overs of spin, but vs the Asian teams a guy who can't work the spinners comfortably at #4 or #5 would be a disaster.

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.

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