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Who else could bat at No.3 for England in Tests?

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner 4 minute read

Ben Gardner takes a look at eight candidates to bat at No.3 for England in Test cricket, none of whom are Joe Denly or Zak Crawley.

It turns out England are allowed to pick Test No.3 batsmen who aren’t from Kent.

That might seem odd, considering the selection debate for the first-drop position currently swirls around two men from that county, one of whom averages 31 and the other 36 in first-class cricket.

But it’s true, and while none of the other options have put forward unanswerable cases, there is plenty to like about each. Here’s an (inexhaustive) look at eight potential candidates to bat at No.3 for England in Test cricket.

James Bracey

38 first-class matches, 2,092 runs @ 35.45, 5 100s, HS: 156

Who? 23-year-old Loughborough-educated Gloucestershire wicketkeeper-bat.

Pros: ‘Well-organised’ was the common review of his efforts in the warm-up game, and he’s earned plaudits for his solid forward defensive and old-fashioned temperament on the county circuit.

Cons: Like Crawley, could probably do with a prolific County Championship season behind him before his call-up so that, when the tough times do come, he has something to show his merits.

Dan Lawrence

70 first-class matches, 3,804 runs @38.42, 10 100s, HS: 161

Who? 23-year-old Essex right hander. Wrists like steel. Also bowls weird spin.

Pros: After a stellar start to his first-class career, he’s come back from tough times by removing his trigger movement last year. Since then he’s scored three centuries and two fifties in his last seven red-ball innings.

Cons: Seven innings isn’t a whole lot to go on, and before then he had struggled significantly. Is also more suited to batting in the middle order.

Dawid Malan

188 first-class matches, 11,229 runs @ 37.43, 25 100s, HS: 199

Who? 32-year-old top-order bat. Ex-Middlesex now Yorkshire. Prolific in T20Is.

Pros: He has already shown he has what it takes at Test level, having scored an Ashes hundred in Australia. Was in prolific form in his final season for Middlesex in 2019.

Cons: He’s not exactly one for the future, and Ed Smith has said he sees the left-hander as being more suited to overseas conditions, although he does have over 10,000 first-class runs in England. He was also ruled out of contention for the West Indies series due to injury.

Gary Ballance

160 first-class matches, 11,282 runs @ 47.40, 40 100s, HS: 210

Who? 30-year-old Zimbabwe-born Yorkshire left-hander. Doughty batsman, fun on a night out.

Pros: There’s no more prolific batsman in the country who’s not currently in the England team. Over the last three seasons, he has more than 3,000 first-class runs at an average of almost 50, with 11 hundreds. In his time in a Test shirt, showed that he can score runs and cope with the pressure at the top level.

Cons: The perception is that he’s had enough chances – although whether that’s actually true is debatable. He’s also been accused of not working enough on an idiosyncratic technique that leaves him weak against the best left-arm quicks and against high-quality spin.

Sam Northeast

165 first-class matches, 10,184 runs @ 39.16, 24 100s, HS: 191

Who? Kent, born and raised, now at Hampshire. Tousle-haired right-hander.

Pros: Behind Ballance as the County Championship’s premier batsman of recent times. After some years of unfulfilled promise, has finally seemed to allay consistency to an unconventional grip which allows him to murder bowlers.

Cons: It’s hard to say, but England seem to have found some. Despite averaging more than 50 in last year’s County Championship, he couldn’t find a place in England’s 55-man training group, and, aged 30, that might mean his chance has come and gone.

Jonny Bairstow

181 first-class matches, 11,576 runs @ 43.51, 24 100s, HS: 246

Who? Yorkshire gloveman. Flame-haired firebrand.

Pros: We all know how good he can be. He’s one of the best ODI openers in the world and was, for a time, one of the best Test batsman in the world as well. He has a Test century at first drop too.

Cons: That hundred came against Sri Lanka, and Bairstow has always been more comfortable against spin than pace. He’s also developed an alarming weakness against straight bowling, and while he might be able to make himself a Test player again, perhaps he’s too important to England’s white-ball plans to risk it.

James Vince

162 first-class matches, 9,692 runs @ 38.92, 25 100s, HS: 240

Who? Hampshire captain. Dreamboat.

Pros: He has a cover drive to die for, and has occasionally threatened to turn his obvious talent into top-level success too, notably on the first day of the 2017/18 Ashes, when only a Nathan Lyon direct hit stopped him from notching a glorious hundred. Has fared well at county level over the last couple of years too.

Cons: Given England’s desire for top-order solidity, opting for a player synonymous for nicking off with wafty drives might be viewed as a backward step.

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