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Australia's gaping hole at No. 3

Over the last three years, Australia's No. 3 batsmen have averaged 27.13 in Tests, which is worse than all teams except New Zealand and Zimbabwe

S Rajesh

March 8, 2013

Comments: 63 | Text size: A | A

Shaun Marsh is cleaned up, Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 3rd day, December 28, 2011
Shaun Marsh looked like he might fill Ricky Ponting's boots, until he suffered a severe case of the batting yips against India © Getty Images
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During the days of Ricky Ponting in his pomp, the fall of the first Australian wicket would be a moment of high alert for the opposition team, for the next man walking in would be the best of the Australian line-up, and arguably the best of any line-up during that period. More often than not, the one-hour passage of play immediately after his arrival would be one in which Australia would regain control after an early wicket, or consolidate the gains of a productive first-wicket partnership.

Fast forward to the present, and the fall of the first Australian wicket is now a signal for the No. 4 batsman to be on guard, for the second wicket usually follows the first pretty quickly. Phil Hughes' recent struggles in India - 25 runs in four innings, three of them at No. 3 - only brings further attention to a batting position that used to be an undoubted strength for Australia not so long ago but is now their biggest liability in their top-order batting line-up.

Over the last three years, beginning March 2010, Australia's No. 3 has been among the weakest of all sides in Test cricket - even Bangladesh have done significantly better at that position during this period, a stat which won't please a country that has historically produced some of the best batsmen who've ever batted at that position in Test cricket: over the history of Test cricket, West Indies and Australia are the only two sides whose collective No. 3 batting average is more than 45.

In these three years, though, that average has slipped alarmingly to 27.13 over 60 Test innings, which is lower than all other teams except New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Bangladesh have done 20% better, averaging 32.59. Australia's average second-wicket partnership during this period is 26.67, worse than all other teams except Zimbabwe.

Australia's problems at this position began when Ponting was still around. Between March 2010 and November 2011, he batted 22 times at that slot and averaged a mere 26.28, with a highest of 77. It wasn't good enough by any standards, let alone his own lofty ones, and the logical step was for him to make way for a player who initially looked tailor-made for that position. Shaun Marsh scored plenty from that position in Sri Lanka, but then suffered a severe case of the batting yips in the home series against India, making a pedestrian attack look ultra-threatening, as he gathered 17 runs from six completed innings. (His average of 2.83 remains the lowest in a series for an Australian top-four batsman who's played at least four innings.)

Since Marsh's debacle, Shane Watson and Phil Hughes have done the bulk of the batting at No. 3, without doing justice to the slot. A couple of stats indicate further how steep the fall has been: in 60 innings at this position, there has been only one century - Marsh's 141 against Sri Lanka in Pallekele. On the other hand, there have been ten ducks in these 60 innings, with Ponting and Marsh each contributing three. Twenty-two times the No. 3 batsman has got out for a single-digit score, and a further 15 times for less than 25. All these failures have put additional pressure on the rest of the Australian batsmen, and offered early encouragement to the opposition bowlers, in contrast to how it was during Ponting's pomp, when opposition bowlers were usually deflated early in the innings, and the rest of the Australian batting order benefited.

Team-wise stats for No. 3 batsmen in Tests since March 2010
Team Players Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Ducks
Sri Lanka 5 28 2659 59.08 49.71 9/ 11 5
South Africa 4 27 2523 58.67 59.51 9/ 11 2
England 5 35 2844 53.66 50.94 8/ 12 2
India 4 33 2649 49.05 45.45 9/ 8 0
Pakistan 5 27 1967 40.97 40.02 4/ 13 5
West Indies 8 26 1606 37.34 44.58 3/ 11 3
Bangladesh 2 11 717 32.59 48.18 1/ 5 2
Australia 7 33 1574 27.13 46.66 1/ 11 10
New Zealand 11 22 1078 26.29 41.94 1/ 7 4
Zimbabwe 2 4 193 24.12 36.21 1/ 0 0
Australia's No. 3 batsmen in Tests in the last 3 years (Qual: > 2 Tests)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Ducks
Ricky Ponting 12 552 26.28 0/ 5 3
Shaun Marsh 7 301 30.10 1/ 1 3
Phil Hughes 5 258 32.25 0/ 2 1
Shane Watson 4 228 28.50 0/ 2 1
Usman Khawaja 4 203 29.00 0/ 1 0

The fall in standards over the last three years becomes even starker when compared with the numbers for the two previous three-year periods. In the period between March 2007 and February 2010, Australia's No. 3 batsmen averaged 45.70, which was the third-best in the world, after Sri Lanka (64.23, aided by the ever-consistent Kumar Sangakkara) and South Africa (58.13, thanks largely to Hashim Amla). During that period Ponting wasn't at his best, but his stats were still very acceptable - six centuries in 56 innings at No. 3, and an average of 46.09.

In the previous three-year period, from March 2004 to February 2007, Australia's No. 3 stats were far and away the best of the lot - they averaged 68.23, with the next-best being Sri Lanka's 55.66. Of the 72 innings for the team at one-drop, Ponting played the role 60 times, scored 13 hundreds, and averaged 68.16. The team that struggled during that period was South Africa, who averaged 34.11 - Amla hadn't yet made his mark, and the others who occupied that slot had limited success.

Combining the stats over the entire six-year period from March 2004 to February 2010, Australia's No. 3 batsmen scored 21 hundreds in 129 innings, and averaged 57.46, next only to Sri Lanka's 59.37. Nineteen of those 21 hundreds belonged to Ponting. The other noteworthy stat is that there were only seven ducks in those 129 innings, compared to ten in 60 innings since March 2010.

In fact, working backwards from February 2010, ten ducks by Australia's No. 3 batsmen spanned 12 years, and 221 Test innings. The current lot has achieved the mark in only 60 innings.

Team-wise stats for No. 3 batsmen in Tests in the two previous three-year periods
Team 2007-2010* - Tests Average 100s/50s/0s 2004-2007^ - Tests Average 100s/50s/0s
Sri Lanka 25 64.23 8/11/1 31 55.66 8/11/2
South Africa 30 58.13 8/13/3 35 34.11 3/14/7
Australia 32 45.70 6/15/4 39 68.23 15/15/3
India 34 44.69 7/13/2 32 50.68 6/13/4
Pakistan 16 44.24 3/5/3 31 49.34 7/9/5
West Indies 26 40.32 6/6/2 31 46.34 8/6/8
England 38 31.92 6/5/4 41 40.39 5/19/5
New Zealand 25 29.88 0/10/5 25 48.64 5/7/4
Bangladesh 20 21.43 0/5/3 16 30.31 1/7/0
Zimbabwe - - - 10 9.95 0/1/3
* Refers to the period between March 2007 and February 2010
^ refers to the period between March 2004 and Feb 2007

Australia's No. 3 is their weakest batting position in the last three years (though the No. 4 batsmen haven't done a whole lot better). Their overall top seven average of 38.96 owes much to Michael Clarke, who has been by far the best of the lot, averaging 57.10 when none of the others, barring Michael Hussey, have played a significant number of matches and averaged over 45. That Australia have had more Test centuries from their No. 7 batsmen than their No. 3s in the last three years is another unusual stat, and one that says much about the failures at one-down. Over the last three years, Australia's Nos. 3 and 4 have been problem areas, and unless they fix these holes at the top of the order, there could be more problems down the road, especially with the Ashes coming up later this year.

Australia's averages by batting position in Tests since March 2010
Position Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s Ducks
Openers 122 4284 36.61 7/ 26 6
No.3 60 1574 27.13 1/ 11 10
No.4 58 1785 31.31 2/ 12 3
No.5 58 3592 66.51 13/ 9 4
No.6 58 2080 40.00 8/ 6 6
No.7 57 1649 35.84 2/ 12 3
Overall top 7 413 14,964 38.96 33/ 76 32

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by zenboomerang on (March 11, 2013, 3:15 GMT)

Gaping hole at no.3 ?... More likely a poorly selected no.1-4... Cowan needs a right-hander to open with him (helps upset bowlers rhythm), Warner moves to no.3, Clarke no.4 - Watto's very poor average since being VC doesn't make him an opener (not even top 6)... That probably leaves Rogers or Cosgrove as leading candidates - no one else is standing out this season atm...

@Khawaja_troll... Even the great Ponting started his Test career at the bottom of the middle order... Hussey spent most of his FC career as an Opener but he batted no.5-6 for Oz...

Posted by Paul_Rampley on (March 9, 2013, 23:09 GMT)

@Bertjie agree completely with you bud, Khawaja would be my number 3 as well and just needs a similar trod at it similar to what the other blokes before have got. I still think we can come back in this series, it wont' be easy but one thing we Aussies don't do is give up so expect a fightback.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (March 9, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

@HowdyRowdy "Clarke's inability to move up to this spot has really hurt." :

Spot on 100%.

Clarke's refusal to take responsibility for the chaos that is the Australian batting orders' top 4 is one of the most controversial episodes in modern aussie cricket, as it has harmed the development of the team. Every position in the four places above him has been unstable for a longg time, and occupied by players who do not possess the skill levels required to take on the top 4 or 5 countries in the world. Time and again, like the whitewash and Ashes defeats to England, losing against South Africa and now in India, Clarke cannot take the risk and move up. Put simply, this is decision making unbecoming from a captain.

Posted by Beertjie on (March 9, 2013, 21:05 GMT)

I too would favour Khawaja at 3 but with so many "openers" and so few middle order batters it's perhaps worthwhile considering Warner there. He's hit and miss but averages over 40. By having him there Clarke at 4 and Khawaja at 5 you have a good mix provided you have decent openers. Cowan and Hughes are worth considering, but for me Rogers and Watson would be better for England. To get stability though keep 3 thru 5 as I suggested since over the next 3 years they'll be the backbone of the team.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (March 9, 2013, 20:52 GMT)

No wonder Australia have a gaping hole at no.3, they're currently one of the worst sides in international cricket.

Posted by Soso_killer on (March 9, 2013, 17:27 GMT)

@Master_mihil when did i suggest that Sangakara cant play spin or pace? Lets be honest here, he handeles spin better than pace. He averages 35 and 30 in South Africa and England which are two of the toughest conditions to bat in, yes tougher than Australia. So he does have a weakness against a swinging ball. In that sense Amla is a complete batsman to Sangakara you cant tell me a guy averaging averaging 40 away from home is better than a guy averaging 56. Sangakara's overall average has been increased by the dust bowls of the subcontinent.

What is it about Amla and India? Amla was born in South Africa and both his parents were, also. You can click on his profile if you want.

Posted by   on (March 9, 2013, 17:05 GMT)

noticed one common factor in the article, Kumar Sangakkara has been by far the most prolific batsman in the world since 2004. Averages over 70 as a pure batsman. a Legend. Kallis and Dravid should have gotten a mention in this article as well as they have been magnificent no 03 batsman for SA and India

Posted by aruntheselector on (March 9, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

Just shows how important that position is for any team and what was the impact of Punter.However greats are not produced that often and not easy to fill the shoes of the Punter leave alone Australian cricket but World cricket.Also the stats show that only those teams have been consistent where the No.3 was the best batsman in the team and among all time greats.No wonder Sri Lanka is at the top as it has been Sangakkara's position for almost a decade and once he goes,it is going to be bad days for Sri Lanka.For South Africa that position was occupied by Kallis for long and now its Amla who is also heading towards greatness.India was lucky to have rahul Dravid with VVS Laxman taking the position on a few occassion.India is as of now lucky that Pujara has not made the position felt void post Dravid's retirement.But once needs to see how he would perform overseas and will he be consistent for a decade.With a good start and his approach to the game,it looks like Pujara is here to stay.

Posted by HatsforBats on (March 9, 2013, 14:12 GMT)

For all the doom & gloom statistics, prior to this poorly scheduled and under-prepared-for series, Australia have lost just 4 of their last 21 test matches. In the last 12 months they had the most productive opening partnership, the captain averaging near 70, a wk scoring 2 centuries, and some of the most promising young pace stocks I've seen in years. They are (rightfully) ranked 3rd. Just imagine if they manage to fix the leaks. Even without the bizarre selectorial events and administrative bungling then I imagine Aus would still be ranked 3rd behind SA and England.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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