It goes without saying that the team’s best three batsmen come in at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively. The three-down batter is usually graceful at sight and the fifth one is believed to be picked on the basis of his ability to play against the spin. Meanwhile, the batsman at No. 6 has a role of a reserve; when everyone fails, he must graft and when the top-order fires, the No. 6 is expected to be ready to take on the tired attack at a strike-rate of more than one hundred. And if the No. 6 batsman can also bowl and make occasional breakthroughs, that is even better for the team.
Nobody, in childhood, dreams of batting at No. 6. Young boys playing in the parks fight to bat at the top three positions. For example, Ricky Ponting began his Test career as a No. 6 batsman before he was elevated to No. 3 when he made a mark for himself as Australia’s then best batsman. There is no better way to fell belonged in Test cricket than smashing a few tons against the old ball down the order. The position of No. 6 is entry-level for batsmen that is like a ladder for them to climb to No. 3.
However, the spot of No. 6 is equally crucial, one must not forget it. Ahead of the first Ashes Test in Gabba, Australia is still uncertain who would bat at No. 6. They have to think in the perspective of who is the better option to come in at No. 6 if Australia find themselves in a struggling position of 30 for 5 on the seam Gabba against James Anderson and Stuart Broad. With Sheffield Shield going on, the Australian selectors are on various grounds looking at the contenders’ performances in the four-day game.
There are a few candidates for the position but a dilemma still persists ahead of the final call by the Australian selectors: if the No. 6 position demands of an all-rounder or a pure batsman?
Knowing Australia already has a full-fledged bowling attack with the pace quartet and Nathan Lyon and Captain Steven Smith has not always gone with a bowling all-rounder, a proper batsman is expected to be roped at No. 6. Since Smith took over as Australia’s full-time Test captain following the retirement of Michael Clarke; Australia have played 23 Tests since then, starting with the 2015 home series against New Zealand, and bowled 3713.1 overs. Players termed ‘all-rounders’ have bowled 242 of them.
Be it an all-rounder or a pure batsman, the good news is that Australia have plenty of options and the No. 6 position will be up for grabs for the player who impresses the most in Sheffield Shield.
In the Shield’s second round match between Western Australia and New South Wales, Australia’s one interest was solved at an expense of the other. Injury-return Josh Hazlewood sabotaged hopes of three Australian batsmen to make it to the Ashes. The three batsmen Hazlewood removed in his devastating spell of 3 for 3 in his first six overs – Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh and Hilton Cartwright – were the contenders of the No. 6 spot up for grabs ahead of the Gabba Test.
However, Hazlewood later backed Cartwright to bag the position in the team for his consistency in the domestic circuit in the last couple of years. Cartwright topped the averages in the 2015-16 Shield season; last year, he was the second highest run-scorer with 861 runs and again averaged more than 50 and by doing that he had established himself as one of the most consistent players in Australia’s domestic system. Adding to that, with just one error in grade cricket (missed run out), he is a handy fielder too. He earned an Australian call last year in the New Year’s Test and he was also a part of the XI of a Test in Bangladesh earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the senior Marsh brother, being the oldest player among the No. 6 candidates has never lived up to the expectations. Even when it was remembered that he had scored only 17 runs in the four-Test against India in 2011-12, he was picked this year for the same tour.
However, he returned with just 151 runs at 18.87 and was excluded from plans for Bangladesh. Marsh had a great white-ball start to the summer, clinching 412 runs at 82.40 to spearhead WA’s charge to the JLT Cup final.
On the other hand, there is Glenn Maxwell; the all-rounder who is more associated with the shorter format. But, beneath that hype lies a First-Class record that cannot be overlooked. On his return to the Test squad, Maxwell hit the memorable century in India and with that he has made his case even stronger.
Along with the bat comes dependable fielding and an added advantage of having an offspin option in the team; in seven Tests, Maxwell has eight wickets in his account. At the end of the first two Shield matches for Victoria, Maxwell has 151 runs at 37.75 and that includes two fifties.
The younger Marsh and Western Australia’s new skipper, Mitchell Marsh, has batted the most at No. 6 but with a string of inconsistencies, he has never cemented his place in the team. He was considered for the India tour in the beginning of the year and even played the Pune and Bangalore Test. However, he has never been recalled again for his scores of 0, 13, 4 and 31. Western Australia have played two Shield matches since the 2017-18 season began and Marsh junior has managed only 46 runs from four innings.
Among these Cartright holds a better chance to be picked for the vital No. 6 position, despite being two-Test old. Apart from these sure candidates, there are a few others who might be hoping to be in the race to No. 6: Marcus Stonis, Moises Henriques and Travis Head.