Watson is number one at number three

Ben Latham Roar Rookie

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Shane Watson needs to ditch the bowling and concentrate on opening. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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After scoring an emphatic century in the second innings of the third Ashes Test at the WACA on Monday, Shane Watson looks to have finally secured his place at first drop in the Australian batting order.

Fans are convinced, critics remain skeptical, but what do the statistics say?

Since Ricky Ponting was permanently demoted down the batting order from number three, during the tour of South Africa in November 2011, Australia has been desperately seeking to fill his shoes at first drop; let us call this period After Ponting (AP, similar to AD, but signifying the death of a messiah rather than the birth).

During AP, Australia has fielded eight different batsmen in the number three position, collectively averaging a disappointing 27 runs from 47 innings.

Compare this to Ricky Ponting who, in the number three position, averaged 55.95 runs.

And what happens to an innings when you take out a dependable, rock-solid number three batsman, and replace him with a miserly 27 runs? The answer has been top order collapses, a systemic problem leaving Australian fans tearing their hair out.

To measure the extent to which Australia’s top order has crumbled, one can look at the number of runs scored between the loss of the first and third wickets.

During AP, this figure has only been 63.9 runs. It means after Australia’s opening partnership is broken, the number three and the rest of the top order are only able to pile on a bit more than a half-century before the opposition dangerously breaks into the middle order.

This kind of figure can turn an excellent innings total in an average one, and a decent innings total into an absolute bloodbath.

But how has Shane Watson fared?

Of all eight batsmen trialed at the number three position since Ricky Ponting, Watson has scored the only two centuries and has the highest average; 42.5 runs from 14 innings, significantly higher than his current career batting average of 35.36.

In 2013, this figure is even higher; from four Ashes Tests, at first drop, Watson has averaged 50.25 from eight innings.

During these innings, the runs scored between the loss of the first and third wickets has also greatly improved, to 89.6 runs.

Obviously this can also be contributed to other factors, such as the recent form of David Warner, but it’s fair to say since Watson has batted at first drop, those top order collapses seem to be history.

There is no doubt Shane Watson is an easy pick in Australia’s top XI, but has Watson officially cemented his place in Australia’s top order?

The jury is still out, but with no batsmen from the Sheffield Shield snapping at his heels, it looks like Watson is there to stay, at least for the time being.

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