By Max Hunter
Since Jonathan Trott’s retirement from international cricket back in 2015 England have struggled to find a reliable number three batsman.
During that time England have tried with seven different players and yet to find luck. Looking at the statistics of all the players Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance comes out on top.
After Trott’s retirement the cricket world presumed that Yorkshire star and England captain Joe Root would step up the plate. Although Root performed well in the role at three, Root’s favoured position is at four and been captain has its perks and he soon returned to his favourite position of four.
England have promoted and demoted several players in the order.
Moeen Ali has found himself as low as number nine then been told to bat at three. Veteran Ian Bell has always been varied in his position in the England setup. Nick Compton first came onto the England scene as one of the many openers to bat with Alaistair Cook in 2012.
After failing in that role he earned a recall and batted at an unfamiliar number three position. James Vince like Ali and Ballance first came into the side lower down the order but for the disastrous 2017/18 Ashes series and tour of New Zealand he was promoted to three and hasn’t been seen since.
Tom Westley after a successful 2016 and start to 2017 with Essex Westley was thought to be the saving grace to England’s number three problem but poor performances against South Africa and West Indies has had him fall into the tried and tested bin of the England selectors office.
Looking at the stats Gary Ballance is the obvious choice for selectors but for one reason or another Ballance isn’t selected.
Ballance last played test cricket for England in the summer of 2017 against South Africa. He broke his thumb whilst batting in the second Test and was unable to play for the rest of the series and Tom Westley came and took his place.
Later that year Ballance found himself back in the England squad for the Ashes tour of 2017/18, but he was unable to find a spot with James Vince playing at three in Australia and the following tour of New Zealand.
Last summer saw Joe Root once again return to the number three position for the tours of Sri Lanka and Pakistan but as he admits himself number four is his favoured position.
Also the days of having your best batsman at three have past, if you look at India Virat Kohli bats at four and Steve Smith batted at four for Australia before his ban. The number four batsman is now where England should put there best batsman Joe Root and the number three role now is to protect and to be a solid presence out in the middle.
With Ballance’s average just shy of 10 runs better when batting at three he is the only answer compared to the other batsman used by the selectors.
Ali needs freedom to play a license to do as he pleases which he gets further down the order. Ian Bell yes he’s an experienced head but he’s reaching to end of his career. Westley and Vince got both found out by the quicker bowlers and failed to take their opportunity and with Compton now retired England have no-one else to turn to.
Ballance has the record and has the skill and temperament to succeed in the role as long as he is given time.