Key out to solve third man problem

Historically the No 3 spot in England's batting order has been a difficult position to fill. Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher have occupied it manfully since 1998, but England have to go back to David Gower, who batted in this position in the mid-Eighties, to find their last world-class performer.

Historically the No 3 spot in England's batting order has been a difficult position to fill. Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher have occupied it manfully since 1998, but England have to go back to David Gower, who batted in this position in the mid-Eighties, to find their last world-class performer.

The batsman who bats at No 3 has a crucial role to play. Should an early wicket fall his first priority, like that of an opener, is to see off the new ball and protect the team's stroke-players in the middle order. In order to do this he requires a sound technique and the ability to cope with high-quality fast bowling.

But, should the openers put on a decent partnership, he also needs to be able to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, and move his side into a strong position. To do this he must also have a wide variety of strokes and the ability to play spin well.

Don Bradman played 56 of his 80 Test innings from this position, but the most successful No 3 in the history of the game is Rahul Dravid. Nicknamed "The Wall" - because this is what bowling at him is compared to - Dravid has scored 5,955 runs at an average of 61.5 batting in this position for India. The right-hander's attitude to this role is slightly more attritional than that of Bradman, Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Rohan Kanhai, Ian Chappell and Ricky Ponting, who also shone in this position, but one only has to see him bat in one-day cricket to see what a class act he is.

England's most successful No 3, Wally Hammond, is the 10th-highest run scorer in this position, but he spent most of his Test career batting at four. Butcher has batted at three on more occasions than any other Englishman and moved to this position against Australia in 2001. Before then the Surrey captain had opened for England in Test cricket.

The responsibility of filling this pivotal position, following Butcher's early return to England with a wrist injury, has now been handed to Kent's Robert Key, who, like Butcher, opens for his county. But one gets the feeling that, were he given the choice, he would choose to bat here.

But Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick appear to have made these positions their own in the last 12 months and Key will have to become accustomed to sitting on the sidelines, waiting patiently for the first wicket to fall. But the 25-year-old has made an impressive start to his career in this new position, scoring 378 runs at an average of 63 against the West Indies last summer.

"I had a good time batting at three last year but I don't know whether three is my favourite position," Key said. "I got that one decent score [221 against the West Indies at Lord's] and it took a massive weight off my back. It is also where I have been most successful in Test cricket. But in county cricket I have always opened and it is where I have played my best for Kent.

"Batting at three has its plus points and negative points and I certainly would not want to be batting any lower down the order. If you have been in the field all day and have seven overs to bat at the end of the day, you have to go out as an opener, but at three you have the chance of a rest.

"But I don't enjoy sitting around and waiting to bat. I prefer to face a hard, new ball to one that has been used for 60 or 70 overs. The ball does not come on to the bat the same and quite often the opposition are setting slightly more negative fields. In these situations there are less gaps and batting requires greater patience."

During his stop-start Test career, Key's concentration has let him down and, following his dismissal in the second innings in Cape Town - he was stumped attempting to save the game - it is still an area that he needs to work on. Key had batted responsibly and skilfully for more than three and a half hours during his 41, but then he chose to dance down the wicket to Nicky Boje and was stumped.

"Getting out like that hit me hard," Key said. "I was just starting to feel in decent touch again. I was beginning to enjoy batting and this was probably the reason for my downfall.

"I try to get down the wicket to spinners and this was as reserved an innings as I have played against them. Boje wasn't spinning the ball a great deal and in a county game I would have been charging down the wicket every ball until the field went back.

"It was not getting out that I regretted; it was not doing what I wanted to do. I didn't play the ball as I should have done, but when you do something like that it looks terrible and you get slated for doing it.

"But it is now down to me. If I get proper runs in the next two Test matches I would expect to be first choice next summer."

* Andrew Flintoff will bowl in practice this morning for the first time since spraining his side in Cape Town.

Suggested Topics
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice