With Tom Westley struggling for runs, England might need a new No.3 in the Ashes this winter. Guest writer Robert Bull has a somewhat leftfield suggestion that actually makes some sense … and it would wind the Aussies up rather nicely.
Joe Root will stride out to bat after the fall of England’s second wicket in Brisbane. The debate surrounding Root batting 3 or 4 polarises opinion, but like his fellow ‘batsmen of a generation’ Smith and Kohli, the England captain feels most comfortable at 4. And that’s where he will bat.
England’s top order batting woes are long suffering, but with Malan, who has showed a pro-active willingness to alter his technique, and Stoneman both compiling tough second innings runs, there are signs of promise. The weather has a somewhat gloomier outlook at number 3.
Despite Westley’s elegance, his flaws are obvious. Although he has spoken about the inevitability of international teams hanging the ball outside his off stump, and the importance of staying patient and playing to his strengths, he has been unable to do this against the West Indies. His ill-judged swipe off a wide Holder delivery was indicative of an out-of-form batsman with a scrambled mindset.
So who then should bat at three? Gary Balance has scored 815 championship runs at 101.87, Brown 786 @ 49.12, Burns 772 @ 55.14. And in division two Joe Denly has stood out with 942 @ 58.87. Haseeb Hameed has endured a torrid season, and Alex Hales has enjoyed success batting lower down the order for Notts.
The strongest candidate, in my mind, is Sam Robson. He has been in fine form this season scoring 634 division one runs @ 60.84. Beyond the numbers, he has batted with the composure and confidence of a man ready to meet the challenges of test cricket once more.
Granted, like the names mentioned above, Robson is not a number three by trade. However, the security of having an opener stride out at the fall of the first wicket provides England’s top order with added doggedness to blunt the new ball. This might set the platform for our strong lower middle-order dashers to pummel a weary attack.
Robson’s first crack at test cricket was underwhelming but far from a disaster: he scored a century against Sri Lanka in his second game. What’s more, he might have been thrust into the team a little prematurely, owing to the race between Australia and England for his services. Since then he has steadily rebuilt his game and is far more equipped to score big runs than he was three years ago.
Sydney-born Robson’s formative batting years were spent in Australia. The additional pace and bounce, which so many English batsmen have struggled to deal with, will be familiar to Robson. It’s difficult to imagine the hard-handed Westley, or short ball adverse Balance, thriving in such conditions.
And besides, there will be nothing more motivating, after the inevitable onslaught of verbals, than a former native inflicting pain upon his motherland. Remember Pietersen in South Africa!
Trevor Bayliss’s philosophy has been ‘better to have one more game, than one too few.’ It’s understandable to give players time to succeed. But this is the Ashes. There’s no time for nurturing. It should quite simply be about who is most likely to score runs NOW.
Westley has retained his place for the deciding test against the Windies, and as an Essex supporter I’d love nothing more than to see him succeed. However, I just can see it.
Aussie-born Robson, on the other hand, continues to pile on the runs. He’s a maturing cricketer and with his Australian heritage he’s more likely to succeed down under than the alternatives.
He played grade cricket in Sydney last winter and handled the banter well. So much so, in fact, that he says the inevitable sledging he’d receive in an Ashes test would be ‘music to my ears‘. That’s just the kind of attitude England need.