Ashes 2010: All-time England Ashes XI Number 3

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David Green aka The Reverse Sweep looks at the all time England Ashes number 3.

Unlike Australia (see All-time Australian XI – Number 3), picking a number three batsman in an all-time England Ashes XI is not such a straightforward task.

Indeed, looking back through the history of the battle for the little urn, one could argue that England have not had an outstanding specialist number three. A few batsman have flourished in this role, but can any of them be considered specialist number threes?

The most successful performance for England in this pivotal position is by Wally Hammond, who in 19 Ashes tests at first drop hit 1695 runs at 70.62 with eight hundreds. That is a phenomenal record, but Hammond moved up and down the order and played 14 other tests against Australia. His record at number three is significantly better than anywhere else, but that is arguably because he played there when at his peak and would have been just as devastating at four and five..

Similarly, David Gower has an outstanding record at number three in Ashes encounters with 1262 runs in 14 tests at 60.09 with four hundreds, but like Hammond, Gower played a significant number of Ashes tests (24) elsewhere in the batting order. Clearly however, both should be on the shortlist.

Others who were considered but rejected from our shortlist include George Gunn (777 runs at 51.80 at number three), Andrew Stoddart (478 runs at 59.75) and Arthur Shrewsbury (430 at 53.75). All these Edwardian or Victorian cricketers have excellent records at number three, but their overall test statistics are not in the realms of a Gower or a Hammond. Mark Butcher (who can forget that wonderful hundred at Headingley in 2001) and John Edrich, both of whom have good records against Australia at number three, also miss out for the same reason.

Joining Gower and Hammond on the shortlist are Ted Dexter (1077 runs at 48.95 in 13 Ashes tests at first drop) and two great England batsmen with none or few innings at number three in Ashes battles. The first is Len Hutton, who just missed out on selection for one of the opening positions (see All-time Ashes England XI – Openers). The other is Ken Barrington, whose obdurate style and fantastic overall Ashes record (2111 runs at 63.96 in 23 Ashes tests) would seem to make him well suited to the number three role.

Hammond is the best of the five and arguably England’s greatest ever batsman along with Jack Hobbs. However, if Hutton doesn’t get in at three, having missed out on one of the opening slots then he won’t make the team. Can an all-time England Ashes XI really omit Hutton given his record (2428 runs in 27 Ashes tests at 56.46) and the fact that he captained England to two Ashes series wins? What about Dexter and Gower, who are probably the most stylish English batsmen of the last 50 years?

It is certainly a tough choice, but after first narrowing the final choice down to Hammond, Hutton or Gower, we’ve opted for Hutton. Why? Firstly, Hammond, Gower and Barrington can all come into contention for the number four and five positions, plus if it comes down to a choice between Hutton or Dexter, then the Yorkshireman has to win.

Finally, with England’s great other Ashes captains like Douglas Jardine, Mike Brearley and Ray Illingworth all likely to miss out on selection, England need a shrewd and experienced skipper to combat Bradman and who better than the man who led England to victory in the 1953 and 1954/55 series? So, it is Hutton who fills an unaccustomed position for him.

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