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Zak Crawley and Marnus Labuschagne have brought attacking flair to No. 3 again

It will be exciting to see who gets his team in a better position when they meet for the Ashes

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Zak Crawley harks back to the Viv Richards school of No. 3 batting  •  Getty Images

Zak Crawley harks back to the Viv Richards school of No. 3 batting  •  Getty Images

After suffering a lull while being shunned by star batsmen Steve Smith and Joe Root, the crucial No. 3 position might be about to experience a youth-led resurgence.
Australia's Marnus Labuschagne has been on a rocket-launch trajectory since he permanently took over the spot in 2019. And following a stylish double-century against Pakistan, England's Zak Crawley appears to have found his niche at first drop.
These talented players are capable of returning a lustre to the No. 3 position. This critical spot in the batting order is no longer reliant on just consistent veterans like India's Cheteshwar Pujara and New Zealand's Kane Williamson to uphold its importance.
However, there's a dramatic difference in the style of the youngsters compared with the tried-and-tested duo. There's a youthful urgency about both Labuschagne and Crawley that contrasts with the cool, calculating style of Pujara and Williamson.
The latter two experienced players have seen it all before and understand what can go wrong. Both rely on steady accumulation early, gradually wearing down the bowlers until they are ready for plucking. Occupying the crease and adding substantially to the total are their two main objectives.
In sharp contrast, Labuschagne and Crawley like to make their mark early, establishing superiority with energetic running and audacious shot-making. Their motto appears to be: "Let's win this game quickly."
The two pairs epitomise the distinctly different choice available when searching for a successful No. 3. The ideal player is one who can take charge of an opposing attack despite the loss of an early wicket but also has the technique to withstand a sustained testing bowling spell. If that type is not available then the next best option is a player who can steadily accumulate runs early in his innings and begin to expand his stroke range as the bowlers tire.
There's no better example of the second type than Pujara's gradual but comprehensive wearing down of the Australian attack in 2018-19. The obdurate right-hander ground the bowlers into submission and then a polished Indian attack finished the task.
Since then the youngsters have made their mark. Where Labuschagne eagerly volunteered to bat at three, Crawley has been shuttled through the order, filling holes in the England line-up as they appeared. A number of his early innings were as a replacement opener for the injured Rory Burns in South Africa.
With Burns' struggles escalating against Pakistan, England might be tempted to install Crawley in the opening slot. I'd caution against that by citing the example of the young Viv Richards.
Despairing of Richards' nervous, mid-order struggles in 1975-76, West Indies opted to use him as an opener in Adelaide. As Richards proceeded to flay an extremely strong Australian pace attack in scoring a brilliant 101, I mentioned to Rod Marsh: "When the West Indies realise it, they'll have one of the best No. 3s going round."
The Windies cottoned on quickly. In his next series, Richards' 556 runs against India included three centuries. He exceeded that outstanding output in the series after that, aggregating 829 in just four Tests against England with two doubles and a century. All 1385 of those runs were amassed at No. 3. Richards went on to become the pre-eminent batsman of his era and the flagbearer for aggressive, counterattacking No. 3s.
That's not to suggest Crawley can replicate Richards' career. It would be unwise to burden him with emulating a man about whom Imran Khan - someone who has valiantly faced the various threats that come with being prime minister of Pakistan - confessed: "The only batsman who intimidated me was Viv Richards."
Nevertheless, Crawley is ideally suited to fill England's needs at No. 3 with his natural attacking instincts. England are yet to solve their opening puzzle but Crawley, Root and Ben Stokes comprise a potentially strong and dangerous middle order. An upcoming Ashes series featuring a duel between rival No. 3s Labuschagne and Crawley promises a more glamorous future - one befitting the importance of the position.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist