Number 3 is one hell of a job in test cricket. Batting at number 3 needs the not only good technique but temperament to fight it out when the going gets tough. All teams that have performed well in recent past, have had a consistent solid number 3. India’s emergence as a good test team abroad under Sourav Ganguly was largely helped by Rahul Dravid’s fabulous run. Ricky Ponting’s consistency was key to Australia being on top for a while. Needless to talk about the legendary Sir Don Bradman, who even in the infamous bodyline series managed to score at 60 runs per innings.
In the past couple of decades, the world has seen some wonderful batsmen playing at this pivotal position. Apart from Dravid and Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara and now Hashim Amla have been successful at this position in this era. With 56 tests(51 at number 3) under his belt now, Amla has been around for a while and this probably is a good time to judge his progress with in comparison with the other three legends to have donned this role.
Overall, southpaw Sangakkara leads the pack with an average of 58 with Amla averaging a healthy 52. But a fairer comparison would be when all are compared after playing equal number of test matches. Hence, I shall be comparing these four after each had played 51 tests at number 3 each.
After 51 tests at one drop, Ponting leads with a stunning average of 64. Unfortunately, Ponting’s drop in form afterwards has lead to a decline in his overall average at number 3. Similar is the case with Dravid, who’s average seems to have dropped to 52 from 57. Amla at 52 is also doing well, in fact, better than what Sangakkara was doing back then and even team mate Jacques Kallis has done at this position. Lets’ look at the performances of these players away from home.
The above graph clearly shows why Dravid is valued tremendously by India whenever they play abroad. Ponting and Amla too are really close to Dravid’s away average of 60 and performed much better than Sangakkara. Amla like Dravid, comes under those few players who average higher away from home. This rare ability of improving your game in unfamiliar conditions is mark of a determined player, in my opinion.
In test cricket, not only winning is important, but batting your team out of crucial situations to help them draw matches is also an art. Top test batsmen contribute much more in wins and draws. As the graph below shows that while Amla’s average in wins improves slightly to 55, he has been brilliant in draws averaging 70. Dravid has clearly been the most effective batsmen among the four in draws and wins, averaging 72+ in both.
Clearly, Amla has decent numbers, comparable to Dravid, Ponting and Sangakkara who happen to be the three highest run-scorers at number 3 in the history of test cricket. Some company that. Moreover, the disciplined batsman has a good record against all major cricketing nations with the exception of West Indies (he hasn’t played much against Sri Lanka). He has already shown that he can handle spin bowling as he averages over 100 in India. In fact, his highest score of 253* comes in India itself.
The Saffer who is known to always be relaxed and composed at the crease, surely has a long way to go. His great work ethic and disciplined habits can only help him improve his already solid game. Amla is a fantastic player on both sides of the wicket, but his wristy flicks are what I enjoy the most. If about 8 years back, someone asked me if South Africa should let anyone other than Jacques Kallis bat at number 3, my answer would be a firm no! However, the former U-19 captain originally from Gujarat has done brilliantly and deserves to the spot ahead of Kallis.
Three batsmen at number 3 have been sensational in the last two years. Namely, Sangakkara, Amla and comparatively newer Jonathan Trott. While all three of them have been going through a purple patch, Amla has piled up 7 centuries at an average better than either of them. At just 28, Amla seems to be doing most things right and he will no doubt be a key to South Africa’s success in the next 10 years.