For all the clangour that followed Shane Warne’s retirement, another bedrock of Australian cricket is proving just as difficult to replace.
First drop is the most important position in any batting order.
The majority of good Test sides have a great No.3 – over the past 80 years Australia were blessed with the likes of Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Ian Chappell and Ricky Ponting.
Following Ponting’s demotion to No.4 in 2011, the coveted position has been a revolving door due to injury, form and batting-order reshuffles.
It’s a trend that is expected to continue next month, with Glenn Maxwell failing to fire in the recent Test loss to Pakistan.
Some were given the post reluctantly, some claimed it confidently and some were stop-gap measures in a single innings.
None of the 11 have come close to emulating the success of Ponting.
Since Ponting’s towering 150 in the opening Test of the 2009 Ashes series, Australia’s No.3 batsmen have produced 3365 runs and only four centuries from 60 Tests.
To put that in perspective, the previous 60 Tests netted 5787 runs and 20 centuries from No.3 as Ponting punished sides around the world.
This time last year, national cricket selectors agreed on one hugely important question regarding the opening Test of the Ashes.
Does Mitchell Johnson warrant a recall?
Leading up to December 4, when a four-Test series against India starts in Brisbane, they must reach closure on who is the team’s long-term No.3.
“Fortunately I’m not a selector,” declared Michael Clarke on Wednesday, when asked about the No.3 spot upon arrival in Sydney after his side’s woeful 2-0 Test series loss in the UAE.
“I’m not going there.”
Shane Watson, who has scored the side’s only two centuries at No.3 in the post-Ponting era, is set to return for the Gabba Test and performed the duties last summer.
Alex Doolan, dropped for Maxwell, is yet to play a Test on home soil and selectors may want to afford him that opportunity instead of casting judgment on a handful of starts in four Tests.
Clarke suggested last week the prospect of Steve Smith moving up to first drop was “a fantasy right now … he’s just just starting his Test career”.
Phillip Hughes and Shaun Marsh headline the other contenders.
In the opening round of the Sheffield Shield season, George Bailey came in at first drop for Tasmania and scored 15 and 11 while South Australia’s Callum Ferguson posted an unbeaten century at No.3.
AUSTRALIA’s NO.3 BATSMEN IN THE PAST 60 TEST:
* 3365 runs at 31.15
* 4 centuries
IN THE 60 TESTS PRIOR TO THAT:
* 5787 runs at 60.28
* 20 centuries
LEADING CONTENDERS FOR THE GABBA:
Test record: 52 games, 3408 runs at 36.25
Why they’d go with him: Prodigiously talented and powerful batsman. The veteran allrounder is capable of dismantling a bowling attack on his day
Test record: 4 games, 191 runs at 23.87
Why they’d go with him: Rated the next Test No.3 in South Africa at the start of the year. Almost scored a century in that series and posted a ton in last month’s UAE tour game
Test record: 22 games, 1535 runs at 40.39
Why they’d go with him: One of the best batsmen in the side. In form and has developed significantly in the past two years
AUSTRALIA’S RECENT NUMBER THREE BATSMEN
* Ricky Ponting, Shaun Marsh: away Test series v Sri Lanka 2011
* Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Usman Khawaja: away Test series v South Africa 2011
* Usman Khawaja: home Test series v New Zealand 2011-12
* Shaun Marsh: home Test series v India 2011-12
* Shane Watson: away Test series v West Indies 2012
* Rob Quiney, Shane Watson: home Test series v South Africa 2012-13
* Phillip Hughes: home Test series v Sri Lanka 2012-13
* Phillip Hughes, David Warner, Michael Clarke, Ed Cowan: away Test series v India 2013
* Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja, Shane Watson, James Faulkner: away Test series v England 2013
* Shane Watson: home Test series v England 2013-14
* Alex Doolan: away Test series v South Africa 2014
* Alex Doolan, Glenn Maxwell: away Test series v Pakistan, 2014
THEIR OVERALL RECORDS AT FIRST DROP
* Ponting: 113 Tests, 196 innings, 9904 runs at 61.93, 32 centuries
* Marsh: 7 Tests, 10 innings, 301 runs at 30.10, one century
* Khawaja: 7 Tests, 14 innings, 317 runs at 24.38, no centuries
* Watson: 10 Tests, 19 innings, 749 runs at 41.61, two centuries
* Quiney: 2 Tests, 3 innings, 9 runs at 3.00, no centuries
* Hughes: 7 Tests, 10 innings, 372 runs at 37.20, no centuries
* Warner: 1 Test, 1 innings, 23 runs at 23, no centuries
* Clarke: 2 Tests, 2 innings, 25 runs at 12.50, no centuries
* Cowan: 2 Tests, 3 innings, 38 runs at 12.66, no centuries
* Faulkner: 1 Test, 1 innings, 22 runs at 22.00, no centuries
* Doolan: 4 Tests, 8 innings, 191 runs at 23.87, no centuries
* Maxwell: 1 Test, 1 innings, 4 runs at 4.00, no centuries.