Cricket: The problematic third man

By David Leggat

Daniel Flynn is the latest batsman in possession of a problematic position for New Zealand.

Having made his debut in England in the middle of the year, Flynn's seven tests until yesterday had been at No 5 or No 6 in the order.

But with question marks over Jesse Ryder's suitability for the job, Flynn was bumped up for the arrival of the West Indies and made an excellent start with 95 yesterday.

The trick is whether he can make it his own position long-term.

No 3 is a pivotal place in the order. Just as opening the innings is a highly specialised role, so No 3 is a crunch spot in its own right.

The No 3 can be at the crease in the opening over of an innings, or not be required until the 50th over, or after an opening stand of 100 - not that that's been an issue for New Zealand teams of late.

So he must be adaptable, as comfortable locking down against the seaming, swinging new ball on a green-top pitch or pushing home an advantage accrued by the openers.

The player held up as New Zealand's best in modern times was Andrew Jones.

After making his debut in Sri Lanka in 1987, Jones became a highly productive batsman with his own idiosyncratic style. The Australians took potshots at him on his first trip there in late-1987 but Jones did his talking with his bat.

His 164 at Adelaide was a terrific innings, a resounding response to the doubters with the Aussie twang, and he didn't look back.

Jones had another asset - he didn't particularly like bowlers, which meant he scrapped hard not to get out.

If that sounds simplistic, consider some of New Zealand's specialist batsmen's dismissals of late.

By the time he retired after the West Indies' visit in 1995, Jones had accumulated 2922 runs at a fine 44.27.

All but four innings in his 39 tests were at No 3. Interestingly, one of his two centuries against Sri Lanka in Hamilton in 1991 was at No 4.

In two of those four innings, Jones went in at No 4 to allow Danny Morrison to go in as nightwatchman. Both times, Morrison, once the world recordholder for ducks, made 0.

Among those who've had a crack in the role with varying degrees of success in the post-Jones era are Mark Greatbatch, Adam Parore, Craig Spearman, Martin Crowe, Mathew Sinclair, Stephen Fleming, Lou Vincent, James and Hamish Marshall, Brendon McCullum and Ryder.

One of the most successful in the years before Jones was former captain Bevan Congdon. A hard-nosed scrapper, Congdon, whose test career went from 1965 to 1978, averaged 43.10 at No 3, a far superior number to his overall test average of 32.22. He's an example of a player who grew into the role, most noticeably in hitting consecutive 170s off England in 1973.

But even including Jones, Fleming has the best numbers at No 3 in the past 20 years, but Fleming didn't specialise in that position. And at a glance at the numbers, you'd wonder why he batted anywhere else.

In all tests, Fleming hit 7172 runs at 40.06. But six of his nine hundreds were at No 3 where he averaged 47.25. All his big innings - 274 not out against Sri Lanka in 2003, 262 against South Africa in 2006, 202 against Bangladesh in 2004 and 192 against Pakistan in 2003 - were at first drop.

Who else stands out?

Sinclair made 214 on debut at No 3 against the West Indies on Boxing Day 1999 at the Basin Reserve.

His record was erratic but in that position he averaged 38.32, compared with 32.55 overall.

Hamish Marshall's time was shortlived, but his No 3 average was 43.09 compared with 38.35 overall.

Now it's Flynn's turn to grab the role.

- NZ Herald

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