Why Sam Robson Should Bat No.3 This Winter

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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.

Robert Bull

15 comments

  • Totally agree. Cook, Stoneman, Robson, Root could be strong top order in Aus. It is very debateable who you have at five( Malan, Hales or one of the all rounders). The rest mostly pick themselves if Woakes is back to full form and fitness.

    • Maybe. Robson (and Ballance) was there at the start of The New Era in 2014. In four years, our selectors have failed to find a new opener, a number 3, a number 5 or a specialist spinner. Nice job to have.

  • I’ve heard worse ideas, but the selectors have shown little interest in giving second goes to any of the legion of tried-and-discarded batsmen in recent years. Unless their initials are GB.

  • Couldn’t agree more. After the way he was rushed into the side to keep him from the Aussies, I reckon the ECB owe Robson a second go.

  • For me it all depends on whether he’s tightened up his technique outside off stump. He certainly had the makings of a decent opener, but like many young players he was somewhat found out. He’s still young enough to come back, and he’s made some adjustments, so I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to giving him another shot. He’s 28 years of age so he might be more mature now. Late twenties of often a good time for batsmen to ‘take the next step’ in their career.

  • Completely on favour. Quite surprised that it is even considered “leftfield”… there is really quite a strong case for considering him afresh

  • There’s precious little evidence that opening batsmen step up and get better results at No 3. Even assuming the number 3 in this present England set up may well get in early, it is such a specialist position mentally rather than technically. I know this as I was an opening batsman in Birmingham League cricket for many years who was occasionally required to bat at 3. If it makes a big difference at that level, what difference will there be In a test match. Losing 2 quick wickets and exposing the middle order to the new ball brings even more pressure than opening. This is the prime reason top order batsmen prefer opening the innings. A natural number 3 is rare. You have to relish that extra pressure.
    A classic example of what this pressure can do is illustrated by Chris Tavare, the Kent and England number 3 from the 1970’s, who was reduced to a scoreless wreck in test cricket by the pressure of not getting out. He could barely hit the ball off the square, but at least he did prop up an end and consistently saw off the new ball against a bevy of quality quick bowling.
    I’m not saying Robson cannot do this, but the odds are against him, even at 28.

    • As a fellow opening batsman, I agree 100% about opening batsman batting at 3. It is a very difficult adjustment to make dropping to 3 from opening the batting, whereas middle order batsman seem to find it easier to be elevated from 5 or 6 to 3 (only if they have the technical ability). The Australian model worked very well from the mid 90’s to mid 00’s, by bringing in specialist batsman to bat at 6, with the aim of moving them up the order once they had gained sufficient experience and adjusted to test level. It certainly worked with the likes of Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, and Mark Waugh. New Zealand did this with Kane Williamson, but he was fast tracked up to bat 3 due to our lack of resources.

      • I’m an opener myself but I actually prefer batting at 3. I bat 3 when I’m captaining (admittedly a rare occurrence) but everyone else usually wants me to open the innings … which I don’t have a problem with at all. I’ve always thought that if you’ve got a good technique, and can judge which balls to leave, then there’s very little adaptation required. Obviously a 3 is sometimes required to up to tempo a bit – which is a challenge for some – but I’d much rather have a solid player at 3 than a dasher. It’s a much smaller difference than an opener batting at 5 for example, where they might start against spin etc.

  • Ideally Root would bat 3. He has all the attributes to be successful in that position, however England do not have sufficient batting below him at the moment to justify him batting 3. This problem also works in the opposite manner, as at 4 he does not have a number 3 who is consistently setting a platform for him so he can bat under less pressure. Tendulkar had Dravid ahead of him, and Laxman and Ganguly below him; Ponting had 3 of either Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Martyn, Hussey, or Clarke below him throughout the majority of his time at 3.

    Hameed is an excellent prospect for England, and I hope he gets back into the side sooner rather than later. It would be interesting if they tried him at number 3; I certainly don’t think they will in the Ashes, and I’m not sure if it will work or suit his game. Stoneman looks like a solid player, hopefully he gets a solid run of matches for England to prove himself. I haven’t seen enough of Robson to judge if he has made an improvement on his game since he last played for England, but I hope he has improved significantly. England definitely need to get over the idea of having Gary Ballance in the side. The way he sets up is very much suited to bullying county bowlers; it does not work in test cricket. You cannot sit that deep in the crease before the ball is even bowled with the majority of weight on the back foot. It is imperative to use the depth (and width) of the crease in the act of playing (a shot) on the back foot; Ballance cannot do this simply because he sets himself in an extremely difficult position to play a genuine short ball with PACE before the ball is bowled. The only thing he can do is defend the ball straight up in the air as he can’t get on top of the bounce (because he has no room in the crease move), or take a blow to the body. In contrast, Bairstow got found out in the 2013/14 Ashes, but he has obviously worked very hard on his game and his technical flaws that he had then have evolved out of his game.

    Ben Duckett is an interesting option. He is an exceptional talent, I would certainly have him in the side over Malan, and he’s in good form scoring 193 for Northants yesterday. He is a unique player, one that I hope gets another chance to prove himself for England again in the near future.

  • What a shame that Jonathan Trott suffered from stress and anxiety on that torrid Ashes tour four years ago and ended his career than, apart from that unsuccessful recall in the West Indies in 2015. Trott had the perfect temperament for number 3 and did well there. Root is so often having to walk out into the middle at 20 for 2 or 30 for 2, that he’s always having to face a pretty new ball anyway. He’s had a fine summer with the bat at no.4 but I reckon he could do well at no 3. But as captain, he’ll have the final say on this. Interesting that Denly and Kent and Burns of Surrey don’t seem to get on the selectorial radar. Ballance looked like a walking wicket earlier this summer and I hope he doesn’t go to Australia, don’t think Jennings is good enough either. It does worry me that the three new batsmen in England’s team only have career averages in the mid to high thirties. Surely they have to look at those averaging mid forties and upwards ?

By Robert Bull

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