The batsmen who have tried and failed to fill England’s number three position
Joe Root is set to return to bat at number three in the first Ashes Test on Thursday as England bid to solve what has been a problem position in recent years.
Not since Jonathan Trott’s departure from the Test stage have England been able to lock down the key number three spot.
The former Warwickshire player last batted at three in the first Test of the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia – before leaving the tour with a stress-related illness.
Here, PA looks at a selection of batsmen England have turned to in an attempt to crack the conundrum.
The England Test captain has made no secret of the fact he is not keen on batting at three. He averages 40.47 in the position and 48.00 at his preferred number four. But Root has batted at three on many occasions. He was the first man England turned to after Trott’s exit, playing three Tests during the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash before being dropped altogether for the fifth. He returned to three to play all five Tests in India in 2016 – averaging an impressive 49.10 – before staying there against Bangladesh and Pakistan. Again, the man widely regarded as England’s best batsman moved away from the troubled spot, but returned in New Zealand at the start of 2018 and batted there throughout last summer until the second innings of the fourth Test with India.
The Yorkshire player has had several incarnations in Test cricket, in a whole manner of positions. But he appeared to have secured his place at number three, taking the spot from the start of the 2014 summer. He kept that place during the tour of the West Indies in 2015 – when Trott opened on his Test return – but was dropped after two Tests of the home Ashes series later that summer. Ballance made a brief return for two Tests against South Africa in 2017, but has not played for England since. In all, he averages 46.44 at number three, with his Test best score of 156 coming in the role.
After Ian Bell had a stint at three in the 2015 Ashes and away to Pakistan, England turned to Compton. The ex-Middlesex player had featured in Test cricket two years earlier, opening the batting after the retirement of county team-mate Andrew Strauss. He returned to bat at three for four Tests in South Africa and three home Tests against Sri Lanka in 2016. Compton managed just one half-century in those matches and did not return to England colours.
You could be forgiven for forgetting about Westley’s Test career. The Essex batsman forced his way into England’s side off the back of a mountain of runs at county level but played just five Tests. All five came at number three, but just one fifty was produced in nine innings, despite a degree of promise in the style of his batting. His last Test came in September 2017 and Westley has not knocked on the England door since.
Vince has played 13 Tests, spreading from his debut in May 2016 to his last outing in whites in March 2018. Many pundits believe he should be a perfect fit for England but his international form has not matched up to his performances and style delivered at county level for Hampshire. He played the whole of the last Ashes series – England’s 4-0 hammering in Australia – where he was not alone in struggling. Vince managed two half-centuries on that tour and averages a touch over 30 in Tests at number three. A disappointing World Cup appears to have ruled him out of contention this summer.
Scatter-gun approach last winter
Moeen Ali replaced Root at number three for the last three innings of last summer and kept his place for the series opener against Sri Lanka. From there, England tried anyone and everyone. Ben Stokes got the gig in the second Test, with coach Trevor Bayliss saying he had “as good a technique as anyone to bat at three”. Stokes lasted one Test before Jonny Bairstow was drafted in, playing the third against Sri Lanka and the first two Tests of the West Indies tour. Joe Denly replaced Bairstow to bat at three for the final Test and kept that role against Ireland last week, but it appears his two-Test run in the role will end for Root to re-take the position.