Look what Viv Richards did!
Despairing of Richards's nervous, middle-order woes in 1975-76, WI opted to use him as an opener in Adelaide, where he flayed us Aussies with 101. He later became a flag bearer for the crucial No. 3 position.
After suffering a lull while being shunned by star batsmen Steve Smith and Joe Root, the crucial No. 3 position might be about to experience a youth-led resurgence.
Australia's Marnus Labuschagne has been on a rocket-launch trajectory since he permanently took over the position in 2019. And following a stylish double-century against Pakistan, England's Zak Crawley appears to have found his niche at first drop.
This talented pair is capable of returning a lustre to the number three position. No longer is this critical spot in the batting order reliant on consistent veterans like India's Cheteshwar Pujara and New Zealand's Kane Williamson to uphold its importance.
However, there's a dramatic difference in the style of the youngsters compared with the tried and tested duo. There's a youthful urgency about both Labuschagne and Crawley that contrasts with the cool, calculating style of Pujara and Williamson.
The experienced players have seen it all before and understand what can go wrong. Both Pujara and Williamson rely on steady accumulation early, gradually wearing down the bowlers until they're ready for plucking. Occupying the crease and adding substantially to the total are their two main objectives.
In sharp contrast, the younger duo like to make their mark early, establishing superiority with energetic running and audacious shot-making. Their motto appears to be; "Let's win this game quickly."
The two pairs epitomise the distinctly different choice available when searching for a successful number three.
The ideal player is one who can take charge of an opposing attack despite the loss of an early wicket but also has the technique to withstand a sustained testing bowling spell. If that type is not available then the next best option is a player who can steadily accumulate runs early in his innings and begin to expand his stroke range as the bowlers tire.
There's no better example of the second type than Pujara's gradual but comprehensive wearing down of the Australian attack in 2018-19. The obdurate right-hander ground the Australian bowlers into submission and then a polished Indian attack finished the task.
Since then, the youngsters have made their mark. Where Labuschagne eagerly volunteered to bat at three, Crawley has been shuttled through the order, filling holes in the England line-up as they appeared. A number of his early innings were as a replacement opener for the injured Rory Burns in South Africa.
With Burns's struggles escalating against Pakistan, England will be tempted to install Crawley in the opening slot. I'd caution against that move by citing the example of a young Viv Richards.
Despairing of Richards's nervous, mid-order struggles in 1975-76, the West Indies opted to use him as an opener in Adelaide. As Richards proceeded to flay an extremely strong Australian pace attack in scoring a brilliant 101, I mentioned to Rod Marsh; "When the West Indies realise it, they'll have one of the best No. 3s going round."
The Windies cottoned on quickly. In his next series, Richards's 556 runs against India included three centuries. He exceeded that outstanding output in the following series, aggregating 829 in just four Tests against England with two doubles and a single century. All 1,385 of those runs were amassed at number three.
Richards went on to become the pre-eminent batsman of his era and the flag bearer for aggressive, counter-attacking No. 3s.
That's not to suggest Crawley can replicate Richards' career. It would be unwise to burden him with emulating a man about whom Imran Khan — someone who has valiantly faced the various threats that come with being Prime Minister of Pakistan — confessed: "The only batsman who intimidated me was Viv Richards."
Nevertheless, Crawley is ideally suited to fill England's needs at No. 3 with his natural attacking instincts.
England are yet to solve their opening puzzle but Crawley, Root and Ben Stokes comprise a potentially strong and dangerous middle-order. An upcoming Ashes series featuring a Labuschagne-Crawley duel at three promises a more glamorous future; one befitting the position's importance.
Clayton Murzello's column, Pavilion End, will be back next week
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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