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Clarke's problems at No. 4

Australia's captain averages almost 64 in Tests when batting at No. 5, but at four his average drops to a third of that figure

S Rajesh

July 19, 2013

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke has his bails trimmed, England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day, July 10, 2013
Among batsmen who've played at least 25 times at No. 4, only Mohammad Ashraful has a lower average than Michael Clarke © Getty Images
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Historically, the No. 4 position in Test cricket is a much-coveted one, often manned by the best batsman in the team. Think Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Javed Miandad, Greg Chappell, Graeme Pollock, Kevin Pietersen - among many others - and you get the drift. There have been instances of the best man batting at No. 3, or even opening the innings, but very often two-down suits the most prolific batsman - he is shielded from the brand new ball and the quick bowlers at their freshest, but also has enough batsmen to bat with to pile up a huge score.

The stats bear out the fact that the No. 4 position is the most prolific one in Test cricket: overall in Tests, that's the only slot with a 40-plus batting average. Batsmen batting at No. 4 average 41, those at No. 3 39.98, the openers 35.94, and the No. 5s 37.74. Given that it's such a key position, it's not unusual for batsmen to start their careers at a lower position, and then move up the pecking order as they gain skill and experience, and establish themselves as the best batsman in the side.

In the current Australian side, there's no doubt that Michael Clarke is the best batsman: he's the only one averaging more than 50, and his Test career has already spanned almost a decade, during which period he's scored at least one Test century in every country, except Bangladesh. When he started out he batted at No. 6 since there were several other stalwarts in the middle order, but now that they've all retired, he's the man who has taken the No. 4 spot as he must, given that he is the best by a distance that Australia have.

Except that Clarke's stats at No. 4 are completely at odds with the quality he possesses: in 32 innings at that position - the last of which was a duck against England at Trent Bridge - Clarke averages an abysmal 21.51, with only four half-centuries and a highest of 80. At No. 5, his most preferred position, he averages three times as much - 63.95 - with 20 centuries from 98 innings; at No. 4 he has none from 32. Given that Clarke has batted 156 times in all Tests, he has played 20% of his innings at No. 4, but has scored only 9% of his total runs from there. In contrast, he has batted at No. 5 63% of the time, and scored 78% of his runs in those innings. He's probably the only batsman for whom one batting position has made such a huge difference to his run-scoring ability.

Clarke at various batting positions (Qual: 5 innings)
Position Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
No.4 32 667 21.51 0/ 4
No.5 98 5692 63.95 20/ 19
No.6 21 829 48.76 3/ 3

Perhaps the most damning indictment about Clarke's stats at No. 4 is that, among the 69 batsmen who've played at least 25 innings at that position in Test history, only one batsman has an average lower than Clarke's 21.51: Bangladesh's Mohammad Ashraful averages 15.70 from 44 innings. There are a few others whose presence is a surprise in the table below: Carl Hooper did his batting ability no justice at all with a career average of 36.46, but he was even worse at No. 4, averaging 29.39 from 45 innings. Hooper's best position was No. 5, where he averaged more than 42, and scored seven of his 13 Test centuries. Through much of Hooper's career, though, he had Lara batting at No. 3 or 4 and doing the bulk of the scoring.

England's former captain Michael Vaughan finished with a career average of 41.44, but at No. 4 his average fell to 32.66 from 30 innings. Unlike Clarke and Hooper, though, Vaughan lifted his game when he went up the batting order, averaging 45.48 as opener - a position in which he scored 10 of his 18 Test centuries - and 40.37 at No. 3.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul's career average of 51.81 is very similar to Clarke's 51.75, and he too has struggled at No. 4, though not to the extent that Clarke has: in 41 innings he has averaged 34.51. In his first innings at that slot he scored 118, against England way back in 1998, but since then 40 innings at that position fetched only one more century.

Lowest batting averages at No.4 in Tests (Qual: 25 innings)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Mohammad Ashraful 44 691 15.70 0/ 3
Michael Clarke 32 667 21.51 0/ 4
Alistair Campbell 36 776 22.82 1/ 3
Rajin Saleh 25 593 24.70 0/ 3
Dave Nourse 51 1346 27.46 0/ 9
Carl Hooper 45 1205 29.39 3/ 7
Mark Burgess 27 812 32.48 1/ 6
Michael Vaughan 30 882 32.66 2/ 5
Brian Hastings 29 869 33.42 2/ 5
Javed Burki 29 927 34.33 2/ 3
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 41 1208 34.51 2/ 5
Chandu Borde 27 932 34.51 2/ 5

The contrast between Clarke the No. 4 batsman and Clarke the No. 5 batsman is quite stunning. While he is second from bottom among batsmen who've played at least 25 innings at No. 4, he's second from top with the same qualification criterion at No. 5: only AB de Villiers has a higher average than Clarke's 63.95. In terms of runs at No. 5 Clarke's aggregate of 5692 is already the third-highest at that slot, after Steve Waugh and Chanderpaul.

In fact, Chanderpaul is the only batsman, apart from Clarke, who's in both lists: he averages 57.85 at No. 5, where he has batted 50% of his total Test innings. (He has done even better at No. 6, averaging 65.94, but has batted only 47 times in that position.)

Highest batting averages at No.5 in Tests (Qual: 25 innings)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
AB de Villiers 48 2599 68.39 10/ 9
Michael Clarke 98 5692 63.95 20/ 19
Michael Hussey 38 1978 59.93 6/ 9
Sachin Tendulkar 29 1552 59.69 5/ 6
Clyde Walcott 31 1599 59.22 5/ 9
Garry Sobers 37 1895 59.21 7/ 8
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 125 5959 57.85 17/ 30
Steve Waugh 142 6754 56.28 24/ 29
Graham Thorpe 78 3373 56.21 10/ 18
Andy Flower 82 3788 54.89 9/ 22
Javed Miandad 33 1468 54.37 3/ 10
Zaheer Abbas 42 2048 53.89 6/ 7

Clearly, Clarke is too good a batsman to finish up with those numbers at No. 4, and it's entirely possible that he'll make up for these lapses with a glut of runs at that slot over the next few years, when he bats at No. 4 over an extended period of time.

However, it isn't as if Clarke has never had an extended run at No. 4. In the period between July 2010 and September 2011, he batted 20 innings in a row at No. 4, and averaged 23.15, with three fifties. Coming into that stint at No. 4, Clarke was in sparkling form, scoring 166 (against Pakistan in Hobart) and 168 (against New Zealand in Wellington) in successive innings. When he moved to four, though, the runs dried up: he averaged 34.75 in a low-scoring series against Pakistan in England, 8.75 in four innings in India, after which came perhaps his most disappointing series. In the 2010-11 Ashes, he played at the pivotal two-down position for nine innings on the trot, and scored only 193 runs at 21.44. That, coupled with Ricky Ponting's failure at No. 3 (113 runs at 16.14), was a huge blow to Australia's chances in the series. After the Ashes, Clarke also batted at No. 4 when Australia toured Sri Lanka in 2011, but scored only 96 in three innings.

When he returned to No. 5, the runs came back almost immediately, as he scored 112 in his second innings at that position, against Sri Lanka in Colombo, and a masterly 151 against South Africa in Cape Town in his next innings. (Click here for Clarke's innings-by-innings list.)

In that series Ponting batted at No. 4, but given the inexperience of Australia's current line-up, there's little doubt that Clarke needs to bat at that position. It's possible that he'll bat there and score plenty through most of the remainder of his career. If he does bat at two-down over a number of innings, he'll want to finish at the other end of the No. 4 spectrum, along with the likes of Kallis, Chappell, Tendulkar and Miandad. Clearly, he belongs with those names much more than the company he's currently keeping at No. 4.

All stats updated till July 17, 2013.

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

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Posted by   on (July 23, 2013, 3:08 GMT)

The problem is Australia has no one else to bat at 4. Watson averages 27 there and Hughes only average 2 there, 2! Hughes averages 51 at 1 and 81 at 6 (all be it a limited sample) it would be insane to keep him at 4...

Posted by heathrf1974 on (July 22, 2013, 13:21 GMT)

It's got nothing to do with four or five it's gotta do with whose above him that counts. Ricky Ponting was there and took a lot of shine off the ball. However, he is not there now and is more exposed to the new ball.

Posted by wix99 on (July 21, 2013, 21:23 GMT)

If Clarke makes the most runs at No. 5 then Australia should leave him in the position. Remember that Steve Waugh and Allan Border spent most of their careers batting at No. 5 or No. 6.

Posted by VVSR92 on (July 20, 2013, 9:12 GMT)

clarke has to bat high @ 3 to ensure he scores big & doesnot have the pressure to rebuild of a top-order collapse . If he lays out the platform it would be easier for the next guys coming in to bat freely & score more runs . Else he bats @ 5 he is more likely to end up batting with the tail like he did in India .

Posted by LALITHKURUWITA on (July 20, 2013, 7:59 GMT)

Clerk has to bat at 5 from the astrological point of view. He is failing at 4 and Cricket God is not supporting him at 4.

Posted by twofer on (July 20, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

The move to five has already paid off. Scored more in one innings than entire First test. The No 11 spot now seems to be between Siddle and Harris. Agar might like it back, then he wouldn't have to bat with Haddin.

Posted by jackthelad on (July 19, 2013, 19:20 GMT)

The essential point, not brought out by the numbers game, is that Clarke is a good - maybe even very good - batsman whose figures have been hyperinflated by a few easy treble centuries on feather-beds against poor attacks. Look at his record against proper bowlers on pitches that offer something and you get a different picture.

Posted by   on (July 19, 2013, 14:50 GMT)

others no probs for him to bat at 4 he's a classy batsmen so its ok

Posted by LALITHKURUWITA on (July 19, 2013, 13:50 GMT)

Clerk has to bat at 5 from the astrological point of view. He is failing at 4 and Cricket God is not supporting him at 4.

Posted by LALITHKURUWITA on (July 19, 2013, 13:43 GMT)

The way it is going for Aussies, it is better to get a night watchmen to bat at 4 so that Clerk can continue at 5.

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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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