How often is it said that a team’s best batsman should bat at three? Joe Root by far is the best batsman England have produced for a while now. In fact, he is the best that England have unearthed after the legendary cricketer Ken Barrington. He kick started his captaincy journey with a bang at Lords, scoring an emphatic 190 to mask the top-order frailties and take a 1-0 lead in the four-match series. But, it was just a matter of time when South Africa exploited their weaknesses and make a comeback.
After a fantastic start to the Test series, England lost the battle at Nottingham. Their top-order once again failed to provide a solid start but South African pacers were outstanding with the red cherry. South Africa defeated England by 340 runs to square the series and the onus of bouncing back was now on hosts.
Gary Ballance earned a national comeback riding on some prolific performances in the domestic circuit. And was trusted with the huge responsibility of batting at three. But the southpaw floundered after getting promising starts in three out of four innings. Keaton Jennings only success story in five innings so far has been a tenacious 33 in the second innings at Lords. Unfortunately, Ballance suffered a mistimed injury prior to the third Test, which ruled him out and open the gates for Tom Westley. He had a fabulous season for Essex, where he batted at three and looked an apt replacement for Ballance.
In search of a winning combination or formula, one may say, three players made their Test debut for England at The Oval. In an attempt to strengthen their batting, England drafted Westley and Dawid Malan into the playing XI while Mark Wood was replaced by Toby Roland-Jones. Things didn’t pan out as England would have expected in the first innings as they were delicately placed at 171 for 4 at stumps on Day 1. Westley raised hopes after a solid start but Chris Morris got the better of him right after Lunch. Then Malan’s resistance was cut short by Kagiso Rabada.
England are on the back foot, which has become usual, but can things change in the future if they make some adjustments in the batting order? Joe Root has tasted enormous success at No.4 but has been equally efficient at 3. Can Root provide the solution to England’s top-order woes by batting at 3? At present, Root walks into bat, when his team is under the pump. England’s top-order is yet to fire and Root has to do the repair work. If Root walks out at 3, he would certainly get a chance to bat in a slightly better situation and build solid innings. His success at 3 would provide a breathing space to the middle-order and further a platform to capitalise on.
Westley is just an innings old and South African pacers, on the other hand, have been on a roll. There’s no doubt about Westley’s abilities but Root can provide a cushion, which will be more helpful for the elegant right-hander. Talking about numbers, Root has batted at 3 in 29 innings, scoring 1224 at an average of 45.33 and two centuries. At 4, Root has scored 1267 runs in 26 innings at 52.79 and three tons. The difference is minimal but his side will benefit more if their best player bats at crucial three.
.@root66 in an aggressive mood!
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 27, 2017
Root’s talent is unquestionable, he’s a versatile batsman. He has one of the soundest techniques in contemporary cricket and can be very productive at three. Most importantly, Root has the kind of technique to succeed at succeeding at 3. Let’s take an example of Kane Williamson. The New Zealand skipper gets the job done for his side at 3 and has been prolific. Williamson averages just over 55 in 51 Tests, where he batted at 3 and has been influential at the said position.
Australian skipper Steve Smith boasts an incredible average of just over 75 while batting at 4 and has often shuffled between 3 and 4. When Pakistan toured Australia before the 2017 India series, Smith plundered big runs at 4. But when Australia come to India, Smith stood out from his imminent peers, garnering 478 runs at an awe-inspiring average 79.88 in 4 Tests. He did all this while batting at 3. For India, Cheteshwar Pujara, who is tailor-made for Test cricket, takes guard at three and has hardly disappointed.
With Alastair Cook rediscovering his mojo, it wouldn’t be a bad call for Root to promote himself at 3. If he gets going, Westley will find himself in a good position to come in and so will Malan. It will also give them a psychological advantage. England have some serious firepower in their batting but a platform at the top is what they’ve been looking for. They haven’t found a long term replacement after Jonathan Trott. Root did a commendable job in 29 innings and England need someone to step up. The English captain has been in fantastic form and it would be a better decision for him to come up the order. In cricket, small things matter. A move or two can a make a massive difference. For instance, Faf du Plessis’ motivational word to Chris Morris at Nottingham, where he asked the bowler to bowl as fast as he can, infused some kind of energy.
The Ashes is not far away and England are in dire need of finding a winning combination. A combination that will work out, a combination that can beat Australia. If things don’t turn out well, there might be a possibility that the burden of leading a vulnerable side would soon start affecting Root’s batting. Sir Ian Botham lost his mojo when he was handed the captaincy. Not that Root will undergo a similar phase but the possibilities do exist and cannot be overlooked. England need to set things right at the earliest.
As of now, they have a task in hand at The Oval. They need runs on the board to give their bowlers a fighting chance. The last and ultimate game is scheduled to be played at Old Trafford and It will be interesting to see if England make changes in their batting order in the games to come.