Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist
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Why has No. 3 suddenly become the no-go zone of international batting orders?
In recent times a prolific Michael Clarke flatly refused to bat there; the position has been in a state of flux for both India and England; and there are calls for Steven Smith, despite reasonable success, to vacate the No. 3 spot now that he's the Australian captain.
Unless you're a born opener, No. 3 is the best place to bat. If you don't have Bill Lawry and Bob Simpson or Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes - a highly successful opening partnership - preceding you, you have the the opportunity to establish the pattern of play. You walk out to bat at your own pace and, apart from when there is an immediate setback, you will have had a chance to quickly assess from the pavilion how the pitch is playing and what the new-ball bowlers have that day.
While there's a chance you'll sit around for a while before batting, if you're not mentally prepared to face the second ball of an innings, batting at three isn't for you. A No. 3 doesn't barrack for a dismissal, but going in early is no bad thing. The bowlers are still working their way into a spell and you are mentally fresh. Before Smith accepts any misguided advice to drop down the order, he should ponder this.
As captain of Australia in the Caribbean in 1972-73, I was delighted when my opposite number, Rohan Kanhai, demoted himself to No. 5. Kanhai was one of the best right-hand batsmen I've seen. Largely overlooked because he played in the shadow of Sir Garfield Sobers, Kanhai was a dominant player, possessing all the shots and not afraid to launch a calculated but furious counter-attack after the loss of an early wicket. He was the ideal No. 3.
By demoting himself, he indicated doubts about his batting line-up. If so, he'd have better "protected" them by scoring heavily at three, thus helping to make their life easier. As captain and No. 3 you can establish the pattern of play, whereas later in the order you either follow what has gone before or try to dig the team out of a deep hole. Either way it's a more difficult task.
Kanhai handed Australia an advantage even before a ball had been bowled. Any sign of Smith wavering would provide similar comfort to opponents.
There are two types of batsmen for No. 3: the skilled strokemaker who can mount a counter-attack, or the technically sound player who fights his way out of trouble after an early loss.
For example, I'd put Ricky Ponting and VVS Laxman in the first category, and David Boon and Rahul Dravid in the second. Smith probably falls in the middle, slightly leaning towards the former.
My preference - if you have the choice - is for the Ponting/Laxman style over the Boon/Dravid style. If a captain is fortunate enough to have someone with that level of skill, you don't dilute his attributes by batting him down the order.
India's Ajinkya Rahane recently embraced the opportunity to bat at three, which says a lot about a player who has grown in stature since the beginning of the Australian tour last November. England's Ian Bell has the talent to be a dominant three, but unlike Rahane he didn't embrace the opportunity and only moved there as a career-saving last resort.
I don't agree with the theory that "the best player bats at three". That statement is a hangover from the Don Bradman era, when he was both ideally suited to the position and the best batsman in the team. However, certain players have a "born to bat at three" demeanour. Kanhai, Viv Richards, Ponting, Ted Dexter and Laxman are just a few in that category.
There was much to admire about Ponting's play, but, importantly for Australia, he displayed a fierce determination to hold down the No. 3 spot once he was elevated to the position. Smith will do his team a similar service if he shows that same determination through good and bad times.