January 8, 2016

The Root cause at No. 4

England's two-down batsmen have been the least prolific among the top eight teams in the last 40 years, but in Joe Root they have a possible long-term solution

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In their long and chequered Test history, England have had some remarkable batsmen at the No. 4 slot: Denis Compton, Wally Hammond, Peter May and Ken Barrington all scored 2000-plus runs at that position at 50-plus averages. Barrington averaged almost 60 at that position, scoring 2367 runs at 59.17, while May's average of 58.12 was only marginally lower.

All these batsmen also played in the pre-1970 era; in the last 40 years, England have struggled to unearth more such batsmen who could be as prolific at No. 4. They did find one: Kevin Pietersen scored 6490 runs at the slot - more than any other England batsman - at 48.43, but his England career ended abruptly due to reasons other than his cricketing talent. Other than Pietersen, though, England's No. 4 batsmen in the last 40 years have mostly averaged in the last 30s or early 40s; it's not surprising, then, that England's overall average at No. 4 in the last 40 years is the lowest among the top eight teams. In contrast, in the 50 years between 1925 and 1975, England's No. 4 batsmen averaged 45.07, the second-highest among all teams.

England batsmen with 2000-plus runs at No. 4 in Tests
Player Innings Runs Average 100s
 Ken Barrington  44  2367  59.17  7
 Peter May  49  2383  58.12  7
 Denis Compton  86  4234  53.59  13
 Wally Hammond  66  2997  50.79  7
 Kevin Pietersen  139  6490  48.43  19
 Graham Thorpe  73  2712  41.72  4
 David Gower  91  3223  38.36  3
 Allan Lamb  67  2340  38.36  8
 Nasser Hussain  82  2877  37.36  8

In the last 40 years, Pietersen stands well clear of other England batsmen at No. 4. Among those who have scored at least 750 runs at that slot, the next best average is Graham Thorpe's 41.72, and he is the only other batsman to average more than 40. Robin Smith comes close, while Allan Lamb and David Gower have identical averages of 38.36 at that slot. England's averages in that era suffered generally because of the number of Tests they played against West Indies' four-pronged pace attack, but in this case West Indies isn't the reason for the relatively low averages of Smith, Gower and Lamb: Smith averaged 42.50 against West Indies at No. 4, Gower 38.66 and Lamb 44.33. Both Gower and Lamb had more problems at four against Australia: Gower averaged 23.27 from 18 innings, and Lamb 33.05 from 19.

Kevin Pietersen was one of England's best No. 4s © Getty Images

The bigger, and more recent, disappointment at that slot for England has been Ian Bell. His technique and temperament were thought to be ideally suited for the slot, especially after Pietersen's removal, but he has consistently disappointed, averaging only 33.14 in 49 innings at No. 4.

England batsmen at No. 4 since 1976 (Min 1000 runs)
Player Innings Runs Average 100s
 Kevin Pietersen  139  6490  48.43  19
 Graham Thorpe  73  2712  41.72  4
 Robin Smith  49  1834  39.86  5
 David Gower  91  3223  38.36  3
 Allan Lamb  67  2340  38.36  8
 Nasser Hussain  82  2877  37.36  8
 Ian Bell  49  1558  33.14  4

Among all batsmen who have scored at least 1500 Test runs at No. 4 in the last 40 years, Greg Chappell sits on top with an average of 64.64, with Jacques Kallis next on 61.86. Eleven batsmen have averages of more than 50, including Sachin Tendulkar, Javed Miandad, Brian Lara and Allan Border. Pietersen is in 14th place among these 33 batsmen, while Michael Clarke (average 30.61) and Bell bring up the rear. In fact, among the eight batsmen with the lowest averages among these 33, five are from England, which is a telling indicator of the problems they have historically had at this position.

Lowest averages at No. 4, in Tests since Jan 1976 (Min 1500 runs)
Player Innings Runs Average 100s
 Michael Clarke  62  1745  30.61  5
 Ian Bell  49  1558  33.14  4
 Marlon Samuels  46  1610  35.00  5
 Stephen Fleming  82  2902  36.27  2
 Nasser Hussain  82  2877  37.36  8
 Allan Lamb  67  2340  38.36  8
 David Gower  91  3223  38.36  3
 Robin Smith  49  1834  39.86  5

England's incumbent at that position has the class and the hunger to change those stats at least somewhat, though. Joe Root has batted only 14 times at No. 4 in Tests so far, but already he has shown he enjoys the responsibility of batting at that position, scoring a century and six fifties, and averaging 51.07. The conversion rate could do with some improvement - he has been dismissed four times between 60 and 75 - but he has consistently got starts, and a strike rate of 59 indicates a willingness to take the initiative and dominate the bowling.

Joe Root averages over 50 at No. 4 Gareth Copley / © Getty Images

His overall career stats are outstanding too: the average of 54.16 is sixth among the 41 England batsmen who have scored at least 3000 Test runs. All the others in the top ten played Test cricket before 1985, which shows how special Root has been in his three years so far.

Highest Test averages for England (Min 3000 runs)
Batsman Span Tests Runs Average 100s
 Herbert Sutcliffe  1924-1935  54  4555  60.73  16
 Ken Barrington  1955-1968  82  6806  58.67  20
 Wally Hammond  1927-1947  85  7249  58.45  22
 Jack Hobbs  1908-1930  61  5410  56.94  15
 Len Hutton  1937-1955  79  6971  56.67  19
 Joe Root  2012-2016  37  3196  54.16  8
 Denis Compton  1937-1957  78  5807  50.06  17
 Ted Dexter  1958-1968  62  4502  47.89  9
 Geoff Boycott  1964-1982  108  8114  47.72  22

Root's career is still in its early stages, and while the overall numbers are outstanding, there are gaps he will want to fill. His stats at home, in Asia and in the West Indies are superb, but in Australia and New Zealand he has one half-century from 13 innings. In the ongoing series in South Africa, he has got starts in each innings, but scores of 24, 73, 50 and 29 indicate a failure to convert those starts. Bigger scores could well be round the corner, given the way he has shaped up in these innings. That will only raise his stocks further, and a few more years of Root at No. 4 should give a lift to England's stats at that position as well.

Joe Root's Test career
In country/continent Innings Runs Average 100s
 England  38  2002  60.66  7
 Asia and WI  13  738  73.80  1
 Aus, NZ and SA  17  456  28.50  0
 Career  68  3196  54.16  8

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jim on January 9, 2016, 21:03 GMT

    @hris. Actually, not really. If you look at Malcolm Marshall - perhaps the greatest from the 1980s - he only played against 5 teams: Eng, Aus, Ind, Pak, NZ. Ian Botham - another 80s star - played only 3 Tests against the fledgeling SL team, the rest against Aus, WI, NZ, Ind & Pak. Nowadays there is an ever-increasing rift between the top and bottom teams, reflected in a growing number of one-sided games (e.g. the recent Aus vs WI series). It is the bowlers who benefit most from these mismatches as there are 20 wickets on offer, whereas the batters often only bat once.

  • Colin on January 9, 2016, 20:58 GMT

    Some garbage being spouted here! Root has done very well in a short career but has things to amend - like his record Down Under and I'm sure he will have these opportunities. Root, Smith, Williamson and Kohli are all talented but will also have poor series at some point. Sorry for being dour but a lot of the people posting need to regain some perspective and stop making huge sweeping statements about Root based on a couple of series when he was just starting. Incidentally Nikhil Purohit, Root isn't dour and scores at a very good rate in most innings he plays! Have you seen much of him actually play? You say 'Like all England batsmen, he is also very dour and his batting is not pretty to watch, so there you go.' Have you seen Stokes? Buttler? Ali? Bairstow? They all get on with it! I agree that Compton and Cook are dour but that's their role. I think you should stop generalising.

  • Nikhil Purohit on January 9, 2016, 18:15 GMT

    Joe root has only 1 overseas hundred in 18 matches. He is a limited batsman who cant play pace or spin. He is good to score runs only at home. He has less talent in his whole body than Kohli and williamson have in their finger nails.

  • Mohsin on January 9, 2016, 16:06 GMT

    @ TheRipper...Did I say MSD should retire from T20 cricket when India lost badly in 2009 & 2010 WT20? Did I say 34-year olds SRT & Dravid should retire from ODIs( though Dravid did step down as captain) after 2007 CWC exit? Do u always do this - over-exaggerate? SRT/Dravid/VVS had clearly lost it by the end of 2011 overseas series but still none of them took the responsibility for the loss. MSD's uninspiring leadership in the 2014 Eng series, especially in the last 3 Tests, was there was all to see. Clearly, he had lost control of the Test team. Test cricket was never a format that he liked looking disinterested during that entire series. Calls for his sacking were completely rational after losing every overseas tours except WI since Eng 2011(away record since 2011 P W L D - 21 3 14 4). If such record doesn't deserve sacking a captain, what does?

  • Hrishikesh on January 9, 2016, 15:52 GMT

    @DRJEZ Don't you think there weren't any weak teams in the 80s? I'm sure those guys also feasted on weak opponents.

  • John on January 9, 2016, 15:50 GMT

    @HRIS: Steyn is the exception that proves the rule as they say. He is head and shoulders above any seamer of the last decade. Helmets were in heavy use during the 80's-00's and we also had penicillin, telephones and potable water. Johnson would have been a handful no doubt but batsmen were made of sterner stuff back then too.

  • Mohsin on January 9, 2016, 15:11 GMT

    @ TheRipper...Cricket is an int'l game for global audience & all players deserve accolades & fair criticisms from anyone who follows dis game. I'm open to criticism if u find anything wrong in my comments. R u not capable of constructive criticisms widout knowing where I hail from? I don't need to know ur nationality/username to appreciate/criticise what u write here. I like Rohit Sharma & Ashwin. R u going to tell me not to like dem? My favorite batsman & bowler from those I've watched is Lara & McGrath resp. I support NZ although I don't live der. My comments r der in d open for fair criticisms & not a quiz contest to figure out which country I hail from. Keep making those wild guesses. Re my comment : Enlighten me if any of d recent SC captains has resigned on moral grounds or if any senior player has bowed out after being dropped widout a hue & cry. Non-performing SC players hav to be literally kicked out of d team when dey turn 35 years old.

  • Richard on January 9, 2016, 13:43 GMT

    Joe Root is the best batsman in the world overall. While De Villiers is better in ODI and there are a few better in t20s, Root is the best overall. Easily. Maybe the best of all time.

  • Peter on January 9, 2016, 13:41 GMT

    so Root's piss weak on faster pitches long may he reign in England and asia Every no 4 is not exactly troubled against WI at moment

  • Jim on January 9, 2016, 12:07 GMT

    @hris. No, your logic only partly works. Yes, there are more runs being scored now, so a low bowling average is exceptional. But, on the other hand, having weaker opposition nowadays helps both batsmen and bowlers. Steyn, for example, has taken 20% of his wickets at very low cost against the 3 weakest teams, thus improving his average significantly. Steyn is definitely the stand-out bowler from recent years, but making comparisons with past eras remains very difficult. As for Johnson, would he really have been any better than, say, Lillee and Thomson in Aus in 1974-75? Who knows?

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