Scott Borthwick – England’s Number Three?

With one Test Match left in the England vs Sri Lanka series there is a lot of pressure on Nick Compton to play a ‘career saving’ innings. This is not merely media speculation, Compton has admitted it publicly. The decision to drop Compton should be taken with the winter tours to Bangladesh and India in mind. When I devised game plans for Durham, I recommended we target his with spin early on – he doesn’t look comfortable against it, and can often look confused as to how he should play it. The three GIFs below are Compton getting out to spin:

If England decide to drop Compton for the upcoming series against Pakistan, who do they select? In the media there’s a suggestion that Scott Borthwick deserves a call-up, while Gary Ballance’s name was touted before the start of the Sri Lanka series. Tom Westley is another player in the frame, but the selectors tend to select only from Division One nowadays – unless, of course, you were first selected in Division One but since then your county was relegated to Division Two (i.e. Moeen Ali and Worcestershire).

So who deserves the call? It’s a difficult question to answer, mainly because Scott Borthwick used to be a number 8 who bowled and now is a front line batsman at number 3. It’s also difficult because Gary Ballance has batted at number 5 for the majority of his Yorkshire career, would his selection necessitate a change in batting order? To help us make a decision, here’s their average in the County Cricket for each player (Borthwick has been separated into top order and bottom order).


Averages, however, don’t tell the whole story. Ballance played a season or two in Division Two and his average may be inflated. Borthwick plays at Emirates Riverside, and is often thought of as a difficult place to bat – does this account for his lower batting average? Nick Compton, meanwhile, played a large chuck of cricket at Taunton which is well know for being a batsman friendly wicket. Instead, it may be worthwhile looking at their dismissals – generally speaking, good batsmen don’t often get bowled; they either hit the ball or get their pads in the way.

How Out

When Borthwick bats lower down the order he doesn’t get out LBW or Bowled very often, but when he moves up the order (and thus faces a newer ball) he gets out more in those ways. The above graph, however, is based on all innings. As Nick Compton has played the most matches of the three players, he has more dismissals full stop. If we convert those totals into a percentage for all dismissals, we get the following:

Dismissal Percentages

Nick Compton gets out bowled a lot more than both Borthwich and Ballance, which may suggest his techniques isn’t good enough for Test Match cricket. The over profiles of both Ballance and Borthwick is very similar, and we know Gary Ballance averages 47.78 in Test Match cricket – it’s a good sign for Scott Borthwick.

Packaging all of that information into a radar chat gives us the following image for Borthwick against Compton:

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 13.15.00

As already touched on, Nick Compton looks like by far the better batsman. The nagging thing for me is the difference in times he’s been bowled. That’s alarming, as far as I am concerned. If we take Gary Ballance and Scott Borthwick’s data and put it into a radar we get:

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 13.11.24.png

Again, the two are remarkably similar. This suggests their overall quality is very alike. So, why isn’t there a clamour to get Ballance back into the Test team? Well, for one he has a ‘unique’ technique. Ballance isn’t exactly easy on the eye, and appeared to have been ‘worked out’ the time he last played Test Cricket. He has some flaws, but has neglected to change those. As with all sports, you need to use your eyes to tell the story that stats don’t – players need to pass the eye test.

Scott Borthwick, on the other hand, doesn’t have many flaws. He scores his runs all round the wicket and doesn’t seem troubled by quick bowling. If you add in that he’s a capable spin bowler (don’t forget, he has one test cap as a front-line spinner!) and a seriously good fielder, then surely you’ve only got one option?

Borthwich has made great strides since he moved up the order, and he’s certainly got a fantastic record in County Cricket at the moment. While we know that having a terrific record in domestic cricket doesn’t always translate to a high quality international record, there’s certainly no harm in giving him a go. From personal experience, he’s a hard-working, dedicated professional who lives and breathes the game. If Nick Compton can’t salvage his career, England would do well to look North.



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