Ian Bell, possessor of the most electrifying late cut in sports entertainment and runaway leader of the England team’s ‘who’s got the most MBE’s?’ competition, is in trouble. The vultures circling after England’s slapstick capitulation at Lord’s have been momentarily appeased by the sacrifice of Gary Ballance, but that won’t keep them busy for long (even if there is a lot of vultures, there’s not much meat on him – he’s just got big bones). Perhaps only Adam Lyth now remains ahead of Bell as a potential #escapegoat and, let’s be honest, even a vulture is going to have second thoughts about that one. With the last chance saloon looming and a long run of poor form at number four behind him, England have bumped him up a place in the order for the next Test.
This seems a bit odd. It’s one thing to move Joe Root up the order on the back of scoring a billionty runs, quite another to move someone up who’s, well, emphatically not doing that. Far from getting Bell to move on up, should they actually be moving him down? Inspired by the teachings of the philosopher Moores, let’s take a look at some data. Not the proper sort of data with all sorts of clever graphs and shit (like this from the good old days which we found when we were dicking about pretending to prepare, for which leader Nichael will be fired into the sun forthwith) but the sort you can find by going to Cricinfo, button bashing for a bit and then pressing CTRL+V.
Batting orders are a weird entity; the opener slots are generally considered specialist positions, number three is sort of semi-specialist and then the rest are basically random. As a general rule the clamour is for anyone doing well in the middle/lower order to be moved up. Picking an order isn’t, obviously, an exact science, but often the powers that be seem to look at a side with many obvious failings and decide to change the one thing that’s actually doing well (Root now and Michael Clarke a couple of years ago being prime examples). Bell as of 2010-12ish was a similar case; undeniable success lower down the order led to calls for a move up. Yet the data shows a huge difference between his record at five and, especially, six and that of higher up. A 25 run difference in average between four and six, over a fairly significant number of innings, is surely too big to be ignored.
Of course there is probably an element of it being ‘easier’ to bat at six than three but there’s hardly a long list of brilliantly successful batsmen in that position for England recently. Even Ben Stokes, who has done well for the most part, averages a shade under 45 in that spot. Averaging the best part of 60 is very good wherever you’re batting. Realistically, how many more runs are you going to get by moving him? The same applies to Root at five now. By moving the guys who are scoring consistently where they are, are you actually just swapping the strengths and weaknesses around rather than fixing them? And, in doing so, risk messing up the good bits as well?
Maybe the best England order has Root and Bell at five and six respectively; the spots in which they’ve been consistently excellent. Maybe the wildcard fix to the problem of the top order is to throw Stokes up to number three. Even if he doesn’t get any runs he’ll at least do so quickly, which is far superior to scoring no runs slowly. It potentially takes some pressure off Alastair Cook with runs flowing from the other end and still leaves Root at five to do his thing, with Bell at six to do his. It also, totally coincidentally, leaves a spot at number four which looks perfectly suited to an attacking batsman, someone who could really add to the strong, positive middle order. Perhaps someone with a load of runs at this level already. Which absolutely wasn’t the entire reason we wrote this.
[HASHTAG FIRED – Ed]