by Nomaan Qazi
Gone are the days when batting used to be a show of only the top six men in the team line-up and the remaining five used to be mere roll-overs. Those were the days of pure cricket when the cricketing royalty ruled and any team around the world on any given day comprised specialist batsmen, a specialist wicket-keeper and specialist bowlers. They were only assigned to do their own particular jobs rather than being asked to hide the shortcomings of their team mates by playing out the roles they didn’t specialize in.
As the game has developed, the perception of the game has completely transformed. With more formats coming up cricket has increased the world over. Franchise T-20 league cricket is very much on the rise in most parts of the cricketing world and obviously that shortened form of cricket creates high demands from all eleven men of a team to contribute with the bat. This aspect has arguably converted the various pure tail-enders in to men who can hang in there and make a somewhat sizeable contribution.
Also, the extraordinary work being done on the tail-enders’ batting by the coaches holds utmost significance. We have come to a point where the coaching staffs has come to realize that until and unless the tails aren’t good enough with the bat they aren’t going to be making a place in the playing eleven, the reason being that the pace of the modern day game can sometimes ask too much from the main batsmen leaving the game to be finished off by the tail.
The precedent dates back to the era of Steve Waugh’s invincible Australian side in the early 2000s when the likes of Shane Warne, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie coming in the lower order. They used to win a number of games for Australia in remarkable ways. In the 2001 Carlton & United tri series in Australia the tail-enders were architects of many wins for Australia. In the 2003 world cup we all saw the brilliance with which Andy Bichel batted in the lower order for Australia, winning them games against England and New Zealand.
In the same way, the entry of Indian pace sensation Irfan Pathan in to international cricket in 2003 got even more hyped up because he improved his batting and started contributing with the bat lower down the order. His perfomances with the bat inculcated a new spirit in the indian tail-enders.
Jason Gillespie’s 200 not out against Bangladesh and a hundred run stand with Glen McGrath shall always be remembered. However, apart from the grittiness of the Aussie tails of the past, modern day tails have started to wag rather astoundingly. More than anything else it has added more flavour and interest to the game.
England cricket came up with a master plan. They linked each tail-ender in the squad with a batsman during the training sessions so that they could do all the practice drills together. For instance James Anderson was given to Alistair Cook and Stuart Broad to Ian Bell. The results were brilliant. Everyone remembers England’s dominance in test cricket back in 2009-12 when they clinched a couple of Ashes series as well. One noticeable fact was that England’s tail-enders supported them really well. England would have lost the 2009-10 Ashes series had Monty Panesar and James Anderson not saved the Cardiff test match with the bat through their steely resolve. In the same manner Graeme Swann made a number of handy contributions in the lower order in the following two Ashes series playing a decent part in winning the games for England. Stuart Broad’s 169-run knock against Pakistan at Lords when England were staring down the barrel proved to be a match winning knock under immense pressure.
Wahab Riaz’s lower order flurry saved Pakistan from humiliation against Zimbabwe at the 2015 world cup, otherwise Pakistan would have surely lost that game and hence bowed out of the cricket’s most coveted tournament.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s coming of age is a prime example of a surging emphasis on tail-enders’ batting. The Indian spinner has saved them from blushes time and again, scoring runs at crucial junctures in the longer version of the game. People can argue about the fact that the bulk of his runs have come at home, but the fact is that test runs are test runs. Ashwin’s new spin twin Jayant Yadav who recently made his debut in the test series against England also flourished with the bat batting in the lower order scoring a half century and a century as well.
Kiwi tail-enders Tim Southee, Mitchell McGleneghan, Matt Henry and Ish Sodhi can really give the bat a serious swing and can chip in with some very handy quick fire runs in all formats of the game as they can hit the ball straight down the ground. For this very reason bowlers like Kyle Mills and Jeetan Patel were being overlooked despite picking heaps of wickets in domestic crickets.
Whenever tail-enders click and fight it’s a clear signal of the fact that the spirit in the camp is sky high and the side is gelling together. Or in case the spirit is down such wagging of the tail all of a sudden raises the morale of the side right from the word go.
The crowd also certainly gets going when the number 10 and 11 start to hammer around a few handy boundaries considering it as pure entertainment rather than anything else.
There have been instances where tail-enders at the international level have been specifically made to bat in the top order or the middle order in their respective domestic circuits so as to give them the desired exposures with the willow. Such gambles have really paid off in certain cases in the past and current scenarios as well. Prime examples being David Willey of England, Adil Rashid of England, South Africa’s Robin Pieterson, Pakistan’s Sohail Tanvir and India’s Ravinchandran Ashwin.
Australia, England and South Africa have had the strongest tail in international cricket over the years while Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka have not been blessed in this regard, which is the reason why these three subcontinental sides heavily rely on their main batsmen to do all the hardwork, and in case anything is left for the tail to do they usually fail to take their side over the line. India’s disastrous loss to Australia in the Sydney test 5 years ago is a prime example when the tail-enders were left with a minor job of watching out the final 5 overs of the match to ensure a draw but the final 4 wickets succumbed to spin of part timer Michael Clarke.
Pakistan’s humiliating test defeat at the hands of New Zealand at Hamilton last month when the final 5 batsmen couldn’t even survive the last 10 overs of the game to play out a draw also further strengthens the fact that the side’s tail is one of the weakest going around in the world right now.
However, these weaknesses are being worked upon really hard. In Pakistan’s case for example Micky Arthur and the coaching staff have done a lot of hard work on the tail-enders’ game and that seemed to have bore fruit recently in the first test match against Australia at the Gabba when Pakistan seemed to be absolutely down and out chasing a mammoth 490. Pakistan’s tail wagged and wagged utterly effectively with Mohammad Amir scoring a brisk 48 and giving terrific company to AsadShafiq. Wahab Riaz soon joined Asad Shafiq and chipped in with a handy 30 odd and later Yasir Shah featured in a 50-plus 9th wicket stand with Asad Shafiq. This monumental effort of the tail almost enabled Pakistan to pull off a remarkable run chase .
South Africa’s recent test series win against Australia also saw a series of handy contributions by lower order, Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbot in particular. Their contributions eventually got South Africa to post something decent which then gave something to the bowlers to bowl at.
All in all its a combined effort of the coaching staffs around the world at all levels of the game to enhance the batting levels of lower orders so as to provide their respective teams the option of damage control and extra cushioning which is very much the need of the hour in modern day cricket in all three formats. The team that refuses to catch up or follow this pattern will lag behind and will be unable to cope with the demands and pressures of modern day cricket.