England's problems with No. 6

Andrew Flintoff's inclusion in the England team for the second Test against South Africa forced them to re-jig their batting line-up - specifically, the No. 6 position became a slot for much debate, especially since it went to the out-of-form Tim Ambrose, which many thought was a spot too high for him. As it turned out, Ambrose scored 36 in the second innings to somewhat redeem himself after a first-innings failure, but England will still feel uncomfortable about having him bat at that position again in the third Test.

In fact, England's problem with No. 6 isn't a recent one. Ian Botham and Flintoff have occupied that position for the longest periods in the last 30 years, but the most successful players at that slot have had shorter stints there: Robin Smith played just 14 Tests at six but averaged nearly 59; Ian Bell averaged almost 50 there before moving up the order, but for the most part England have lacked a quality batsman at No. 6. (Click here for a list of England batsmen at six since 1980.)

The difference becomes starker when compared to the performances of batsmen from other teams. Since 2000, the Indians have been the most prolific at that position, thanks largely to VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. India have averaged more than 42 at six, closely followed by Australia, but England languish at ninth place, below even Bangladesh. England have also used 25 batsmen at six in 111 Tests, suggesting they haven't quite figured out who should bat there; India, on the other hand, have used just 14. The only column where England are on top is the one for ducks, where they comfortably lead the way with 24.

Going back even further, to 1980, the rankings are almost the same. Australia and India swap the top two positions, while England remain at No. 9.

The list of best batsmen in this slot during this period is headed by two West Indians - Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Clive Lloyd are the only ones to average more than 60 - but the Australians are represented better than any other team: Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn are all in the top ten. England, meanwhile, go unrepresented in the top 14. (Click here for the entire list.)

Flintoff and Botham, in comparison, have modest numbers. Both have played at No. 6 more than at any other position, and their bowling firepower obviously gives England an extra bow in their armoury, but Flintoff only averages 32, with three centuries in 45 Tests, while Botham's numbers are marginally poorer.

England's relatively weak No. 6 also means their fifth-wicket stand has yielded fewer runs than for other teams. India's middle-order strength comes to the fore once again in the table below, and what is especially impressive is their conversion-rate: out of 42 stands of 50-plus, 22 have gone on to the three-figure mark. Australia have excellent numbers as well, with 18 century stands in 142 innings, but England only slot in above Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The presence of VVS Laxman at No. 6 - and Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid above him - has resulted in plenty of meaty fifth-wicket partnerships for India. Laxman has been involved in 11 out of 22 century stands, five of them with Dravid and three each with Tendulkar and Ganguly.

Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers have combined well with each other and with Jacques Kallis to prop up the fifth-wicket stats for South Africa, but England have struggled to find similar pairs. Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood have done a fine job over the last couple of years, averaging more than 51 per partnership, but most of the others haven't had similar success. Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, for instance, have batted together 13 times for the fifth wicket, but have only managed one century stand, while their average partnership is a modest 32.15. (Click here for England's fifth-wicket pairs since 2000, and here for the corresponding table since 1980.)

All stats before the start of the first Test between Sri Lanka and India at the SSC in Colombo.