Almanac Cricket – From Walters to Marsh: A brief history of the Australian No. 6

Amidst the shambles that has been the WACA Test for Australia there have been numerous questions about Mitch Marsh’s place in the team. Batting at No. 6 for 18 tests now and averaging 23 with the bat and 37 with the ball, those questions are reasonable. With 21 innings, Marsh is now 8th on the all time list of the highest number of innings at No. 6 without a century, behind Gus Logie’s 52. He is second of Australians behind David Hookes’s 23 (noting Hookes averaged 33 at No. 6).

So, what is the history of the No. 6 position in Australian cricket? Is the current situation to be expected or an outlier? Only nine Australians have scored more than 1000 test runs batting at No. 6 – the lowest of the top 6 positions. For the most part in Australia it is a transitory batting position, not a destination; batsmen who can roll the arm over and contribute to the team’s attack. What follows, based on those nine players, is a brief history of the No. 6 in Australian test cricket.

 

1965-1966, 1972-1977, 1980-1981 – Doug Walters
Tests batting at No. 6 – 34
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 54.97
Average – 47.92
Centuries – 6

As a No. 6, Dougie came flying out of the blocks with 155 against England in Brisbane in 1965, despite David Brown’s impressive figures (and name) of 3 for 71. Walters shared stands of 187 with Bill Lawry and 119 with Tom Veivers on the way to a rain affected draw. His finest hour came in Christchurch in 1977 with 250 runs against New Zealand. Across his 74 Test career Walters took 49 wickets at 29.08 with his medium pace and 43 catches. He did very little bowling after 1975 and up to that point had 48 wickets in 57 Tests. More than handy.

Other No. 6s – Ian Chappell, Tom Veivers, Keith Stackpole, Paul Sheahan, John Inverarity, Greg Chappell, Ross Edwards, Rod Marsh, John Benaud, Ian Davis, Gary Cosier, Graham Yallop, David Hookes, Richie Robinson, Peter Toohey, Bob Simpson, Trevor Laughlin

 

1978-1984, 1992-1994 – Allan Border
Tests batting at No. 6 – 48
Runs contributed per match at number 6 – 53.25
Average – 52.16
Centuries – 6

Border has reasonable claims to being Australia’s best No. 6. In 48 tests across 17 seasons he built a formidable record in the middle order. In something that might encourage Mitch Marsh, it took AB 12 innings to register his first century in that position. But he made it count with 150 not out and then 153 in the second innings against Pakistan in Lahore in 1980. Border had stints back at No. 6 late in his career as Steve Waugh made his first tentative steps as a No. 5. Across his 156 Test career, Border took 39 wickets at 39 and a lazy 156 catches.

Other No. 6s – Phil Carlson, Dav Whatmore, Rick Darling, Dirk Wellham, Greg Ritchie, David Boon, Greg Matthews, Wayne Phillips

 

1987-1995 – Steve Waugh
Tests batting at No. 6 – 66
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 47.95
Average – 51.04
Strike Rate – 49.09
Centuries – 6

Billed as the next Doug Walters when he entered international cricket, Waugh is the most prolific Australian No. 6 ever with 3,165 runs. Longer than Border, it took Waugh until his 17th innings in the position to lodge his first century – a useful 177 not out in Leeds in 1989. He then followed that up with 152 not out and 21 not at Lords followed by 43 at Birmingham. At that point he averaged 393 in the 1989 Ashes series, so his 92 next up at Manchester dramatically reduced his series average. Across his 168 Test career Waugh took 92 wickets at 37 and 112 catches. However, during his period as a No. 6 he took 55 of those wickets – very similar to Walters.

Other No. 6s – Mark Waugh, Michael Bevan

 

1995-1997 – Greg Blewett
Tests batting at No. 6 – 18
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 56.89
Average – 39.38
Strike Rate – 43.83
Centuries – 2

What would you say about Greg Blewett’s stint at No. 6? Perhaps that he didn’t play against many teams with decent spinners. But before he moved up the order, Blewett started his test career at No. 6 with 102 not out against England at home in Adelaide in what ended up being a pretty poor loss. Thereafter, he shared the position with Ricky Ponting for a period. For whatever reason, like many Aussie No. 6s, Blewett’s best in the position came in Johannesburg with 214 in 1997, sharing a 385 run first innings partnership with Steve Waugh on their way to an innings victory. Blewett’s trundlers were used as a partnership breaker by Steve Waugh as he took 14 wickets at 51 across his career and nabbed 45 catches.

 

1995-2001 – Ricky Ponting
Tests batting at No. 6 – 34
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 58.5
Average – 49.72
Strike Rate – 50.44
Centuries – 7

Ponting was the incumbent Australian No. 6 from Boxing Day 1995 through to the 2001 test in Chennai, where a second innings elevation of Adam Gilchrist pushed him back to 7. Ricky quickly established himself in that role with 127 in Leeds in 1997, his personal highlight 197 against Pakistan at the WACA in Perth (following a pair in Hobart). With Justin Langer he took Australia’s first innings from a dodgy 4-54 to a dominant 5-381 – a match winning partnership. Another occasional trundler, Ponting took 5 Test wickets at 55 and 196 catches – an outstanding fielder.

Other No. 6s – Darren Lehmann

 

2000-2001 – Damien Martyn
Tests batting at No. 6 – 22
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 50.59
Average – 48.39
Strike Rate – 51.76
Centuries – 4

Martyn had a run as Australia’s No. 6 during the most imperious of Steve Waugh’s team’s years as Ricky Ponting moved up to No. 3. His finest innings both came against South Africa – 133 in Johannesburg in 2002 and a faultless 124 not out in Adelaide in 2001. Martyn moved up to No. 4 after this spell as Darren Lehmann had a brief go in the team. The least bowlerly of this bunch, he could nonetheless throw some medium pacers down, taking two wickets at 84 across his career and 36 catches.

Other No. 6s – Simon Katich, Martin Love

 

2004-2008 – Andrew Symonds
Tests batting at No. 6 – 24
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 42.67
Average – 34.13
Strike Rate – 66.06
Centuries – 1

Until recently Symonds has been the worst Australian batsman to spend significant time at No. 6. Of this list he most closely fits a description of bowling all rounder, taking 24 wickets at 37 in his 26 tests for Australia. As a No. 6 batsman, Symonds took 19 innings to record his first century with a devastating 162 not out in Sydney against India in 2008, sharing a 173 run partnership with Brad Hogg and 114 runs with Brett Lee, rescuing Australia from 6-134. Sadly Symonds’ involvement in the test will be remembered for other, more racist, reasons despite his 223 runs and three wickets, as a last over wicketfest from Clarke got Australia over the line.

Other No. 6s – Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin

 

2009-2010 – Marcus North
Tests batting at No. 6 – 21
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 54.76
Average – 37.09
Strike Rate – 48.31
Centuries – 5

North spent his entire career at 6 despite a couple of nightwatchman induced drops to 7. Like Walters he came out firing with 117 on debut against South Africa in Johannesburg. His career lagged at the end with three ducks and two other sub 10 scores in his last 10 innings. Two 20s in the innings loss at the Adelaide Oval in 2010 were to be his final outings in the baggy green, controversially replaced by Steve Smith for the WACA Ashes test. North took 14 wickets at 42 with his competent offies and contributed 17 catches.

Other No. 6s – Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja

 

2011-2012 – Michael Hussey
Tests batting at No. 6 – 18
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 69
Average – 51.75
Strike Rate – 55.37
Centuries – 5

Other than a single stint at No. 6 in 2005 thanks to a nightwatchman appearance from Brett Lee, Mike Hussey crammed a highly effective 17 tests into a 15 month stay in the role. The particular highlight was an unbeaten 150 against India at the SCG in 2012. Although he was somewhat overshadowed by his captain’s 329, taking more than his fair share in their 334 run partnership. Despite not bowling as much as others in this list, Hussey still rolled the arm over with some regularity taking seven wickets at 44 across his 79 test career. Good set of hands, too, with 85 catches.

Other No. 6s – Matthew Wade, Phil Hughes, George Bailey, Joe Burns

 

2014-2016 – Mitch Marsh
Tests batting at No. 6 – 18
Runs contributed per match at No. 6 – 23.61
Avg – 21.25
Strike Rate – 51.70
Centuries – 0

Marsh reflects a new approach to the No. 6 position in the Australian test team. With half the number of runs per test compared to the others in this list, he does average more wickets per match with 1.5 at 37 a piece. Australia appears to have changed the position to that of a part-time batter and bowler. Marsh’s finest moment with the bat came in the first innings at Colombo this year with 53. It is hard to see the position is sustainable but it is also worthwhile noting Steve Smith averaged 25 in his 14 innings at No. 6.

 

So, there you have it – every Australian No. 6 (to have batted two innings in the position in a single Test), since Dougie Walters. While tradition is a poor excuse for most things, the Australian tradition for No. 6 is a batter that bowls a bit. Maybe Australia is waiting for a great all rounder but when he finally arrives for how long will he bat at No. 6?

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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Kudos for the research and happy recent milestone Dave.

    I’ll get in before Rulebook about Trevor Laughlin being Peter Laughlin’s brother.

  2. Very impressive,Dave just a tad of research there ! ( yep got me Swish )

  3. Marcus North made 5 tons… I don’t think I remember him making more than 1!

    Such an important position in the batting lineup. Aussies have been blessed with so many top #6’s until now.

    Well done on such a thorough job Dave.

  4. Good Dave.

    We know Doug Walters made his debut at the Gabba in the opening test of the 65=-66 ashes series. In the period post WW@ wasn’t it primarily filled by all arounders, firstly K Miller, then K Mackay ? Re the 64-65 tour of the Windies was it Brain Both at 6?

    I’d prefer to retain M Marsh in in Hobart. I’d bring in Ferguson for Voges, as i’m not confident the four specialist bowlers in their current form/fitness can do the job. If Marsh needed to be dropped for the Hobart test, why not bring in G Maxwell ? Where is P Faulkner?

    Glen!

  5. DBalassone says:

    Excellent work Dave, counter-attacking at 6 or 7 is what can make a team great. I remember the Windies with Gomes and Duijon always getting back on track, obviously Gilly at 7 was the greatest of them all (he changed cricket). Also the Ashes series in 2013/14 when Haddin at 7 rescued Australia in almost every test deserves mention.
    I think the stats above are a bit misleading for Symonds – he dropped to no.7 in the Boxing Day test of 2006 because Brett Lee was nightwatchman. Symonds cracking 150 after Australia were 5 for 80 odd (in partnership with mate Hayden) remains one of my fondest cricket memories. Throw that 150 into the stats above and Symonds’s number look a lot better.
    I’d like to see Maxwell be given a go at no.6 – he could really shift the balance of games with a quick 50 odd or more.

  6. Great research Dave.

    Gee, Damien Martyn was a stylish bat. Beautiful to watch, which made it so very strange when he retired immediately following Australia’s magnificent win in Adelaide during the 2006/7 Ashes. Of course, by then he batted at 4.

    Love to see a Dav Whatmore reference too. He was in many ways a prototypical Boonie.

  7. Dave Brown says:

    Thanks for the reading and the comments, all.

    Thanks Swish, did the research for this on said milestone day as I waited for a new hot water system to be installed at home. Fancy, I know. Trevor Laughlin is also Australian ODI and T20 player and Adelaide Striker Ben Laughlin’s dad. Trevor was one of those that got a brief go during the WSC years on a West Indies tour and an Ashes Test. His totals of seven runs in two innings and 25 overs 0/60 were sufficient for him to be replaced by Gary Cosier in the 2nd Ashes Test.

    Yeah, North’s best work was overseas, JD, with two centuries in England, and one each in South Africa, India and New Zealand. He averaged 21 at home and 52 away so only those with pay TV that like watching cricket in the middle of the night saw the best of him.

    A bit of a mixture, Glen. Post war players to occupy the No. 6 position include names like Hamence, Loxton, Graeme Hole had a decent run but could never quite live up to his early hype, Richie Benaud spent 14 tests in the position averaging about the same with the bat as Marsh, Davo, de Courcy, Burge. Miller only batted a few times at six, playing in that team in the ’50s with Benaud, McKay and Archer – four all rounders if you don’t mind! They freely moved the order about innings to innings. Yep, Booth batted at 6 in a couple of the Tests in that series but, again, the order was much more mobile back then. Grahame Thomas also spent time at 6 in that series. I’d prefer the bowlers are backed in (or fit ones picked) and a young batsman was given a go. From my very biased perspective, Jake Lehmann is averaging 49 in first class cricket atm and at 24 should be considered.

    Spot on DBalassone – in many ways Australia’s current cricket woes are about still coming to terms with the fact that Gilchrist and Warne are no longer in the team. Fair point re. Symonds – if you include all innings at 6 or 7, he averaged 40 across 26 Tests. Similar to Marsh in that before that century at the MCG his spot was under heaps of pressure. Symonds took Australia from 5-84 to 8-383.

    Martyn was one of my favourite to watch of that era, Mickey. And as for Whatmore Anyone named Davenell is alright by me. He batted at 6 in four Tests in 1979 and will be facing no arson charges as he did not set the world on fire.

  8. Kim Hughes had one, nightwatchman-induced dig at #6, out of 124 cracks. I look back and often think he should have been at 6 when he was at 3, and Border vice versa. Kim’s average would certainly have been higher.

    i was never the biggest Hussey fan but he was a great counter-puncher. you have to be able to go at different speeds at 6. which is why Watto was hopeless at it. Ditto M Marsh. Maybe they should see if he can open….

  9. Peter Clark says:

    Selecting the right player at no. 6 is crucial. Must be able to play spin, bat with the tail, handle the second new ball and adapt to the situation of the game. I’m inclined to agree with DB that Maxwell could be the man. Bowls handily and fields brilliantly. He also has the self confidence that is much needed. M. Marsh is at best a no. 7 but can he be the third fast bowler? He may have to go away and work on his game.

  10. Dave Brown says:

    A worthy suggestion, Peter. Hughes’s stay in the Test team might have lengthened too given he played a lot of good shield cricket after that.

    Maxwell has one of the better first class batting records of those outside the Test squad, Peter and would certainly fit the bill as a batter that can bowl a bit. As you say, also a brilliant fielder. Regardless, definitely time to work out Marsh’s future and head in that direction.

  11. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well researched Dave.
    Was firmly of the opinion when Marcus North was selected that it should have been David Hussey at 6. Was also a better bowler and fielder than North.
    Agree with a few other commenters about Maxwell. With the way we are going it’s time to roll the dice with him.
    Always loved watching Blewett bat. Unless Mushtaq Ahmed or Saqlain Mushtaq were bowling to him. Nobody has played the front foot pull shot better…

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