India vs Australia, 2nd Test at Brisbane: India’s tail ought to take leaf out of Australian tail’s book

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Mitchell Johnson (above) smashed 88 of 93 balls © Getty Images

India were bowled out for 408 after being 328 for six in their first innings. In contrast, Australiawent from 247 for six to 505. Shiamak Unwalla feels that there is much India’s tail-enders can learn from their Australian counterparts.

India‘s last four batsmen scored a mere 49 runs in 76 balls between them. Australia‘s last four batsmen amassed 195 runs in 225 balls. The difference is astounding, and is substantially responsible for the current situation of the match. At the end of Day One, India were firmly in command with a score of 500 well within sight. On the other hand, Australia were gasping for breath after the first hour of Day Three before ending the day as firm favourites.

One of the most aggravating aspects of India’s lower order is that barring Ravichandran Ashwin — who often looks more secure in the middle than Rohit Sharma — none of the “batsmen” given much hope of either sticking it out or scoring quickly. As a result once the bowlers get past Ashwin, the remaining wickets tend to fall in quick succession. This was true even in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval, although Mohammed Shami did manage to wield his long handle around in an entertaining cameo.

A quick look at the statistics for the last 5 years (December 2009 onwards) shows that South Africa and Australia have had some of the most successful tail-enders (batsmen Nos. 8-11) in this period. Meanwhile, India have not done quite as well:

TeamPlayersMINORunsHSAve100s50s
South Africa2343199522928100*19.91110
Australia29553208643949918.77018
Bangladesh212718847255011518.0837
New Zealand2341260693444137*18.0337
India285231173416714417.5613
England226031676412216917.17310
West Indies213922844278110615.1119
Sri Lanka2041224532434103*14.2316
Pakistan254424764220265*12.0306
Zimbabwe1914106208814310.2400

One of the strangest statistics is the number of hundreds scored by Indians batting in the tail. However, this can be explained quite easily: MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, and Ashwin have all batted at No. 8 for India in this period, and have scored centuries and half-centuries fairly often.

In fact, a lot of countries have slightly skewed figures because of their No. 8 batsmen. England have had Matt Prior batting in that position on occasion, while Bangladesh have had Mohammad Mahmudullah, and West Indies have had Darren Sammy. Most nations have decent batsmen coming in at No. 8, so it would perhaps be more telling to consider only the batsmen coming in to bat between Nos. 9 and 11, in the same time frame:

TeamPlayersMINORunsHSAve100s50s
Australia22552327929729919.42011
New Zealand16411906120866716.1706
South Africa18431433816376115.5903
England186023064249516915.0313
West Indies20391694016159512.5102
Sri Lanka16411644614627812.3802
Bangladesh182714043117111312.0711
India225223063177563*10.6204
Pakistan214418153131865*10.2903
Zimbabwe1614791952631*8.7600

This is where the numbers become far starker. Australia’s Nos. 9-11 enjoy a batting average of 19.42 with 11 half-centuries as opposed to India’s average of 10.62 with four. India’s collective runs scored as well as batting average are worse than even that of Bangladesh.

On Day Three of the ongoing Test, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, and Josh Hazlewood looked completely at ease in the face of some predictable, unimaginative bowing. Johnson was peppered with short balls early in his innings, and looked a bit awkward while facing them. Then Ishant Sharma bowled a friendly slowish short ball that bounced as high as Johnson’s hip. The whirlwind bat swing that followed saw the ball rocket away to the square leg boundary, and that broke the shackles. The Indians kept bowling short to him, and he kept pulling and cutting them away.

Perhaps a few neck-high bouncers aimed at the helmet would have caused a few problems, but bowling short outside the off stump allowed him to slash away to glory; and he did, making 88 off 93 deliveries and wresting the advantage away from India.

When Johnson and Steven Smith were dismissed in the same over, Australia were still around 10 behind India’s score. Had India cleaned out the remaining couple of wickets, India would probably have been 150 runs ahead at stumps. But that was not the case. Mitchell Starc — whose highest Test score of 99 came against (guess who?) at Mohali — came in at No. 9 and seemed to continue from where Johnson had left off. He was not quite as brutal in his stroke-play, but was equally effective. His 52 came in 59 deliveries, and ensured that India had no respite whatsoever.

The fact that Australia’s ninth and tenth wickets added 56 and 51 runs respectively — remember, India’s last four batsmen scored only 49 runs between them — shows just how much the tail-enders were willing to clamp down and apply themselves for the team. Lyon received some harsh short balls from Varun Aaron, one of which struck his arm. But he bared it with a grin and went on to score a valuable 23. Hazlewood, on debut and batting at No. 11, played some good shots and did not at all seem overawed by the occasion.

In contrast, Umesh Yadav tried to go hammer and tongs (and managed nine runs in 21 balls as a result). Aaron, to his credit, tried to defend but proved unequal to the task. In the previous match, however, Aaron and Ishant were both woefully unequal to the task and never looked like even trying to score the remaining runs.

India’s tail has the potential to wag. Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had helped save a Test in England earlier this year. Umesh and Aaron have guided India to an ODI win. Ishant had dealt with Ajantha Mendis better than most of the top order on India’s fateful tour of Sri Lanka in 2008, and was involved in a match-winning stand against Australia with VVS Laxman at Mohali in 2010. What they lack is the application and guts that the Australians showed. The Indian tail would do well to take some inspiration from this performance, and support the top and middle order with some more determined batting in the future.

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