Thursday, 26 July, 2007

Batt(L)ing with the tail enders

"Don't worry, just hold on," said Viv Richards to Michael Holding as the latter plodded down to crease at Manchester Oval. West Indies were precariously placed at 166/9 in first of the three match ODI series against England. 'Held on' did Holding. But for him, the best seat was at the other end, from where he watched, with awe, the King launch a ferocious attack on Messrs Botham, Willis, Miller, Foster and Pringle. Next 15 overs produced 106 runs with Holding contributing a mere 12 and Richards making a world record score (then) of 189.

Narendra Hirwani, the quintessential number 11, did not inspire similar confidence when he came out to bat in the first test of 1990 series at Lords. India needed 24 runs to avoid a follow on and Kapil had already played first two balls from Eddie Hemmings without scoring a run. But like Holding, Hirwani was best positioned to witness Kapil's breathtakingly audacious shots of the next four balls - all six - in the region from long on to long off. Follow-on was averted and Hirwani duly completed the task he had set out for - getting out on the second ball of the very next Angus Fraser over.

Two great players reacted in contrasting fashion, when faced with an identically perilous situation. The end result however was spectacularly effective. There is an underlying message in how Richards and Kapil took charge of the situation. That, playing with tail enders is an art, and not all players are adept at it.

M S Dhoni showed he was, in the just concluded Lords test, although at times, I felt he should have batted more against Monty Panesar and allowed Shreesanth to face the non regular spinner, Michael Vaughan. But as they say, all's well that ends well and Dhoni displayed a tremendous temperament, not only in playing an innings that went against his nature, but also controlling the game to its intended finish – bad light and rains - from Indian stand point.

Of all the players I have seen bat, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Brian Lara were brilliant when it came to batting with the 'tail'. I remember many of Border's fighting innings esp against India like at Melboune in 1984/85 series and Sydney in 1991/92, the former innings depriving India of the what could have been their first ever series win in Australia. Who can forget Brian Lara's 153 n.o. at Barbados, when he single handedly chased the Australian score of 308? That innings was also rated as the second best in Wisden's 100 all time great innings. And it took VVS Laxman epic 281 to completely overshadow Steve Waugh's superb rear-guard action in the first innings of the same Calcutta test.

But is batting with the tail a 'single handed' show as it is deemed to be? I don't think so. Like a good Cuban Salsa, it takes two to tango. The less endowed batsman plays an equally critical role. Even more, I believe lower order players with a good 'cricketing sense' are more likely to succeed in playing more match saving/winning innings. Andy Roberts, more than once pulled WI out of a certain defeat against Pakistan, in the league match of 1975 corld cup and then in the opening test at Barbados. Ambrose similarly helped WI 'tie' their match against India at Perth in the 1991/92 tri series and also played a crucial innings in the 1997/98 series to deny India her first ever test win at Barbados. His contribution in that Lara special innings of 153 was no less significant.

Of the current players, Jason Gillespie and Mathew Hoggard have shown the enough 'common sense' to play a responsible innings lower down the order.

Indian team has sorely missed good lower order batsmen since the exit of Roger Binny and Madan Lal, both of whom played some useful innings coming down. While one can excuse the number 11 for falling to their 'moment of insanity', it is the runs scored (and the time spent in the middle) by number 8, 9, and 10 that can often make difference between defeat and a victory/draw.

Zaheer Khan, Shreesanth, RP Singh and co. better learn your lessons fast.


Soulberry said...

Fine article yet again CG.

Although he didn't have enough opportunities to do so in test matches, Michael Bevan was another master of the art of batting with the tail. Quite often, he was left with the tail with plenty of overs left to go, and he'd marshall them very effectively.

The Australians generally do not farm the strike unless it was absolutely necessary. In the later years of McGrath, he was trusted with an ability to offer a steady bat to the ball.

Another innings which comes to mind is Laxman on the previous tour of WI. he began with shepherding Ajay Ratra, saw him to a hundred, and almost took India to safety. Ratra wasn't known as anything other than a good tail-ender then.

Dhoni shows remarkable adaptability to a situation. When he comes across a new one, he may fumble the first time, but he quickly finds his way about with his own methods. There is a certain street-smart savviness to his game that works rather than baulk at sudden demands.

Confidence of the senior partner in his self and in his fellow-batsman is contagious and often urges the lesser to exceed himself.

Sreesanth has played two innings of worth in South Africa, and has the making of a sensible tail-ender.

Shane Warne too began as an out and out tail ender. He may well have finished his journey as a lower middle-order batsman.

Sunny Gavaskar too showed remarkable ability on many ocassions.

straight point said...

some times the way our tailenders bats makes me think that they have some brains or not...

means even a common fan will tell you that you are trying to save a match so best sensible thing is to put some premium on your wicket...but what we see is expansive shots while at the other end is an accomplished bat trying to save or win a match!!

do they watch or understand cricket coz had they being following cricket they must have heared about certain gillespis hoggards etc...

its ok if bowler gets you out but the shots they play are no-sense and dumb...

specially our bowler have seen and have had first hand experience of how the tail wagged of opposition and how much effort they had to put in to get them out...there have been countless matches against india, where we were able to get 7-8 wickets only to see that tail wagged and match was drawn where we could have won...recent match against sussex being the case in even county teams bowlers know their job when they get bat in their hand instead but our bowlers AHHH...

they should also realize that once they are not getting easy wickets they should not give the same to others too...

Golandaaz said...

Talking of tailenders, I am reminded of Ravi Shastri who is probably the only genuine tailender who graduated to score a duble hundred as an opener. Started as a Number 10 against NZ in 1981.

Now this is either a testament to Ravi or an indication of how bad our opening situation was.

Soulberry said...

True, Ravi Shastri began as a tailender in the senior team, Golandaaz, but he was very much a middle order batsman at the age-groups and Ranji levels. But that stat will hold good for a while...Jason is another tailender who scored a 200 but not as an opener.

Cricket Guru said...


Thanks for pointing out Bevan and Warne. I also missed out on Brett Lee, who almost saved the 2005 Ashes series for Australia.

As for Gavaskar, let me check. Although he carried his bat through the innings twice, I am not sure how well he batted with the tailenders. But the kind of pressure Gavaskar was opening the innings under, it was like asking for sky to expect him bat well with the tail enders too!

@ Straightpoint,

I suspect when you wrote your comment you had Javagal Srinath in mind! I cannot think of any other Indian bowler, who lacked basic cricketing sense (or common sense) while batting.

@ Golandaaz,

I think it is a combination of both. Shastri's debut coincided with the decline of Chetan Chauhan. And with players like Suru Nayak, Binny, Anshuman Gaekwad etc opening the innings alongside Gavaskar, Shastri's chance had to come some day.

viklele said...

If you divide the inning on runs scored by 1-5 v/s 6-11, you will find Clive Lloyd and Jeff Dujon having put in some amazing shows of rear guard action.

I recall the 1983-84 series, when in almost every test big cat along with the second half of the team bailed out WI from most precarious positions.

1st Test, 1st inn. from 5-157 to 10-454

2nd Test, 1st inn. from 5-173 to 10-384

3rd Test, 1st inn. from 7-168 to 10-281

5th Test, 1st inn. from 5-88 to 10-377

Cricket Guru said...

Welcome onboard, Vik.

Jeff Dujjon was another stubborn lower order batsman.

I remember watching the Ahmedabad test where Kapil took 9 wickets in the second innings. Having had a relook at the score after reading your comment, I realise how close that match was.

Last 2 wickets added 91 runs for WI in the first innings. Number 8, 9, and 11 added 87 more in the second. The margin of defeat for India was 138 runs!

Thanks for that nice little piece of info.

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