There’s no doubt that Michael Clarke will continue to plunder flagging, tired attacks for thousands more runs, should he continue to hide down the batting order.
But as captain of the Australian test team – and in the wake of Ricky Ponting’s retirement – it is now time for Clarke to acknowledge that rather than thrusting yet another young, inexperienced batsman into the number 3 position, he should take it upon himself to make the first-drop slot his own.
From personal experience, batting in the middle order is a privilege. The top order has usually taken enough shine off the ball and put enough runs on the board for you to go in and play your natural game. Generally, by the time you make your way to the crease, you’ll have had made your way through several Sydney Morning Herald liftouts, analysed the opposition’s bowling attack and shaken off the previous night’s hangover with a coffee and bacon & egg roll. An hour or two of light-hearted conversation/banter/misogyny with your team-mates in the pavilion will have also done much to ease your pre-match nerves.
Of course, there are many instances when the top order will fail – and you, as a result, will be forced to play an unsettling, surrogate top-order role – but in most cases the middle order batsman is unencumbered by the typical pressures that face an opener or number 3 batsman.
Middle-order batsmen – and by that I mean those who come in at 4, 5 and 6 – are often the victims of passive disrespect because of where they sit in the batting order. If there is a pecking order, it is certainly linear: the openers and the number 3 clearly deserve the most respect, for they are the front line. Numbers 4 and 5 – generally speaking – are the stroke-makers; they are so valuable to the team that they must be mollycoddled by their team-mates, protected at all costs against the frightening new rock, dare it swing so vehemently as to render them dismissed.
Number three batsmen have traditionally been seen as dour, grafting types. Rahul Dravid – or “The Wall,” as he is known – springs instantly to mind. But Ricky Ponting changed the way number three batsmen were perceived. They have the ability to dictate a game; to take the challenge directly to the opposition and put them on the defensive. As a result, he sets the tone for his batsmen to follow.
Clarke is well-equipped to meet this challenge. He has been in, dare I say, “scintillating form,” and there is no better time for him to step up to the first-drop position than right now. He has shown an ability to play the new ball – by virtue of facing the second new ball on various occasions over the past 18 months, given his longevity at the crease – and has a new-found maturity and calmness at the crease which many commentators have attributed – ironically or otherwise – to his new-found “stability off the field.”
But if he doesn’t heed this challenge, and instead continues to plunder countless centuries against second- and third-change bowlers, then let the pithy, childish “protecting his average” taunts begin.
By Dave Edwards