The 'Number 3' debate
Today, three of the writing team state their cases for who they believe should bat at first drop for England in the upcoming third test versus India. Giving their opinion in this article are Rob (@RobRush02), David (@DWyattHupton) and Tom (@cricthoughts). Have a read and then let us know what you think and who would be your choice for number 3...
Rob: England are in a bit of a rut in the number 3 position. With Joe Denly being discarded, Joe Root not willing to bat there and James Vince also firmly away from the Test frame, it's been left to 3 candidates to fight it out: Zak Crawley, the incumbent, Jonny Bairstow, the wanna-be success story of English red ball cricket and Dan Lawrence, the new kid on the block.
When Crawley hit that magnificent 267 against Pakistan, it quite rightly put him as the undisputed number 3 in this side. Denly hadn’t reached three figures in Tests (damn you Peter Siddle) and with Crawley out shining his Kent team-mate, he seemed to have made the place his. However, since his career high knock, he’s struggled to make a score of note in the Test arena, making a combined 35 runs in 4 innings against SL, making his spot less secure. While those innings were as an opener with YJB at 3, he still should've been looking for more than an 8.75 average. With age still on his side at 23, I back him to bounce back from a very tough debut sub-continent series and nail down the number 3 spot, despite the 34.17 Division 1 average. He’s shown he can do it at Test level, now he needs support and patience while he becomes more consistent.
Next, Bairstow. Quite simply, I despise his recall, nor do I think he should've been brought back at all. He's been a victim of his own success in a way, with him constantly being bowled through the gate or pinned in front in red ball since he rose to be one of the best white ball openers in the world. England showed a clear intent to change tact and direction after the Ashes in 2019, and Bairstow was correctly dropped. He was asked to go and bat at 3 for Yorkshire if he wanted any chance of a recall, and in true YJB fashion, he did very little in the BWT to justify said recall, scoring just 102 runs at an average of 34 in 3 innings. Couple this with an average of just 18.6 in his final full year of Test cricket, 3 words spring to mind - not good enough. As soon as this Test series is done, I pray to all things heavenly that he is dropped and doesn't return until he averages 45-50 in a County Championship season, and even then I'll still have nightmares about him being clean bowled for 0 by any half-decent Test pacer.
Last candidate is Lawrence, and if I'm being honest, I feel sorry for him. He made his Test debut in his preferred position of the middle order, got off to a decent start with 73 in his first ever innings, but since then, it's been a bit “meh” from him. Then, he gets asked to be the sacrificial lamb when Crawley gets injured and move up the order to bat at 3 against India in India, after only 2 Tests. It wouldn’t be England if we didn't play our young, promising batter out of position (see Ollie Pope against India 2018) would it? He’s been sacrificed because England literally had no other options,and I just hope his confidence has not been destroyed by his difficulties in his early Test career. For these reasons, I'm not picking him at 3 for the next Test or for the long term, unless he moves there for Essex and scores runs for fun. With a Div 1 average of 35.5 and a fantastic Lions tour of Australia from last winter, he’s shown the potential to crack Test cricket, but perhaps it's a little too early for him right now. Send him back to Essex for this summer, let him rediscover his form (hopefully) and then go from there.
Long story short, Lawrence isn't a three and is still lacking that final quality to crack Test cricket at the moment, Bairstow simply shouldn't be anywhere near the Test team while he still has an obvious major technical flaw, leaving Crawley as the only viable option at 3, for the moment.
David: Dan Lawrence. Lawrence has been thrust into action so far this winter, and I'd be lying if I said he hadn't struggled a little bit. He's just 8 innings into his England test career and he's averaging just under 22. Things started so well in Galle as he hit a composed 73, followed by 21* as England saw the game out. However that's as good as it got for Lawrence and his time in India has been plagued by playing across the line and being struck in front. His dismissals in the first test were very similar, the only difference being the bowler, Bumrah first and then Sharma.
There were signs he was starting to find some form in the 4th inning in Chennai, until a rush of blood saw him stumped by Pant as he aggressively attacked Ashwin, never a great idea in India on a spinning pitch.
However, Lawrence has a lot more to give and we have to remember that he's only 22, and has been asked to start his test career in the most difficult of circumstances. I'm always in favour of sticking with a young player who's trying to find his feet in the game. We also can't forget that Lawrence is the same man who averaged 98.6 on a recent Lions tour of Australia, and with an Ashes tour only months away, it may be prudent to stick with a player who's had such success on those fast bouncy tracks as recently as he has.
There is no doubt that he needs a score, but I'd say a lot of the England players not named Root need a score. Pope has flattered to deceive on this tour at the easier spot of #6, so lets stick with Lawrence over the English summer and give him a real chance to stake his claim.
Tom: I am going to go with Jonny Bairstow. As I have said countless times previously, I didn't think Bairstow should have made the tour due to how poor his form had been for the 18 months leading up to it. Personally, I would've gone all in on the horses for courses selection strategy and brought Keaton Jennings to bat at three. However, the Lancashire opener is not part of this debate for the simple reason, he is not on tour.
My main reason for Bairstow's inclusion is his record against spin. England were very ordinary in their attempt to successfully play Ashwin and Axar in the second test, and having seen how much England struggled, it is highly likely India have requested a similar pitch for the day-night test. Bairstow is probably England's second best player of spin behind the captain Root and I believe he could hold the keys to England even having a chance for the rest of the series. Bairstow averages 40 with the bat in tests in India which is considerably more than most of England's batsmen and I feel with a relatively inexperienced batting lineup with the exception of Root and Stokes, Bairstow's ability could be vital. I do have some reservations about Bairstow which are his seemingly obvious technical struggles against pace bowlers targeting the stumps. With the third test being played with a pink ball, this will likely favour the quicks to a greater degree than the previous games. This could leave Bairstow exposed to the in swinging balls that he has previously been dismissed by. However, from seeing pictures of the wicket two days out from the game, it does look to be another that will offer large amounts of turn for the spinners. Seeing that the Indian seamers only bowled 19 overs in the second test this pattern could repeat meaning Bairstow will only end up having to see off the seamers in short bursts.
My reasons for wanting to avoid both Lawrence and Crawley is so far they have both looked relatively poor so far against the spinners. Lawrence had a very handy debut innings in Sri Lanka of 73 but since then has struggled. The latest dismissal, stumped off the bowling of Ashwin after attempting to charge him, this demonstrated someone who wasn't quite sure of their game. Lawrence needs to be taken out the firing line for now and needs a few more county runs before he is ready. We must appreciate that number three isn't his natural position so to have been asked to bat there after Crawley's injury would've piled even more pressure on his shoulders. Crawley really had a torrid time in Sri Lanka averaging less than 10 across the four innings and being dismissed by the left-armer Embuldeniya on each occasion. Crawley just did not seem to be able to settle into an innings and his technique showed he was fairly susceptible to falling early. One particularly bad dismissal was when he attempted to charge the bowler and only succeeded in skying a simple catch to mid off. It is highly likely that if Crawley were to play Axar Patel would swiftly be brought into the attack to target him.
Having made my case for Bairstow I am keen to emphasise that this is solely for the remainder of this series and when the players return to England I would like Bairstow to return to Yorkshire before he is selected in English conditions. As for who bats three in the longer term, Crawley would be the obvious selection seeing how he concluded the English summer but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.
Well, there are our writer's thoughts, what about yours? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter either on our individual accounts or the main account @InsideEdgeCrick