The batting talent of tailenders
The two most recent Test matches, in Sri Lanka and England, both produced some remarkable lower-order batting displays. At the P Sara Oval, Abhimanyu Mithun and Amit Mishra offered plenty of resistance in India's first innings, but that effort was dwarfed by Sri Lanka's incredible late-order fightback in which Ajantha Mendis played protagonist. The last three wickets in Sri Lanka's second innings put together 180 runs - which is the second-highest for them in all Tests - to lift them from a miserable 87 for 7. Meanwhile, the resistance from Pakistan's tail at Edgbaston further embarrassed the already beleaguered top-order batsmen, with Zulqarnain Haider and Saeed Ajmal at least ensuring that Pakistan's bowlers had some sort of a target to defend in the fourth innings.
These two Tests continue a recent trend where the last four batsmen have added a fair bit to their team's total. In 25 Tests this year, the last four batsmen (Nos. 8-11) average 18.46, with two centuries and 13 fifties; in 2009 they averaged 17.96, and both these numbers figure in the top five annual averages over the last 40 years. (Click here for the full list.)
As that link also shows, though, the increase in averages hasn't been as consistent, or as significant, as one might have thought: the average in 2008 was only 15.39, while in 2007 it was 14.78. Overall in the 2000s, the average was 15.51, which was only marginally better than the previous decade, and worse than the averages in the 1980s and the 1960s. That doesn't conform to the general perception that tail-end batting has improved substantially in recent years, though the way the 2010s have started is pretty encouraging.
The partnership stats for the last three wickets mirror the averages table above. Again, the 1960s and the 1980s outdid the 2000s, but 2010 has so far produced some important lower-order performances.
|Decade||Partnerships||P'ship runs||Average stand||100/ 50 stands|
A look at the batsmen with the highest averages at these positions since the 1950s shows that the top 10 is dominated by batsmen who played predominantly in the 1980s and the 2000s. Among those who've played at least 50 innings at these slots, a couple of South Africans head the list. Mark Boucher's preferred slot was No. 7, but he also played at eight and nine 52 times, averaging almost 35. Incidentally, in 112 innings at No. 7 he only averages 26.82. Shaun Pollock, on the other hand, played 99 out of 156 innings at Nos. 8 or 9. Both his Test centuries came when he batted at nine, making him one of 16 batsmen to score a hundred from that position, and the only one to get two.
Like Boucher, Kapil Dev played most often at No. 7 (98 out of 194 innings at that slot), but he had a more-than-handy record when he came in lower down the order, averaging nearly 33. Daniel Vettori, though, has clearly preferred batting at No. 8 or lower - in 152 Test innings, only 24 times has he batted higher. He is one of only two batsmen - Shane Warne is the other - to score more than 3000 runs at positions 8 to 11. Three of his five Test hundreds have come at No. 8, where he averages 42.28; at No. 9, though, his average slips to 23.88 in 51 innings, which is why his overall average at these positions is only 31.59. Boucher, Pollock, Kapil and Vettori are also the only batsmen with a 30-plus average.
|Mark Boucher||52||1424||34.73||2/ 9|
|Shaun Pollock||99||2330||32.81||2/ 7|
|Kapil Dev||65||1967||32.78||2/ 13|
|Daniel Vettori||128||3317||31.59||4/ 18|
|Ian Smith||75||1667||27.78||2/ 6|
|Syed Kirmani||76||1598||27.55||1/ 6|
|Kiran More||57||1180||26.81||0/ 7|
|Nicky Boje||52||1125||26.78||0/ 3|
|Chaminda Vaas||144||2785||25.55||1/ 12|
|Richard Hadlee||81||1641||24.49||1/ 8|
Of the pairs who've batted together at least 10 times for the last three wickets in an innings, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq of Pakistan have the highest average - 34.33 from 12 innings. That average is slightly misleading, though, for 313 of their 412 partnership runs were scored in a single innings, against Zimbabwe in Sheikhpura, when Akram scored that monumental unbeaten 257. In 11 other innings, their highest partnership was 26. Jason Gillespie's limpet-like abilities have been well documented, so it's hardly surprising to see his name twice in the top 10, with Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist. With Waugh, Gillespie has two 50-plus partnerships in 10 innings, while with Gilchrist he had three in 14, including a 73-run stand in Fatullah when Gillespie scored a famous double-century. Gillespie is one of four Australians who feature twice in the top 10 - Gilchrist, Warne and Brett Lee are the others - which illustrates another aspect of their cricket that was outstanding during the period they dominated world cricket.
|Pair||Partnerships||Runs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|Saqlain Mushtaq - Wasim Akram||12||412||34.33||1/ 0|
|Jason Gillespie - Steve Waugh||10||308||34.22||1/ 1|
|Brett Lee - Shane Warne||10||340||34.00||0/ 3|
|James Franklin - Daniel Vettori||11||338||30.72||0/ 2|
|Ian Healy - Shane Warne||16||491||30.68||0/ 3|
|Abdul Qadir - Imran Khan||10||304||30.40||1/ 0|
|Adam Gilchrist - Jason Gillespie||14||382||29.38||0/ 3|
|Kumar Dharmasena - Chaminda Vaas||12||350||29.16||0/ 3|
|Adam Gilchrist - Brett Lee||17||458||28.62||1/ 2|
|Imran Khan - Sarfraz Nawaz||11||279||27.90||0/ 2|
Sri Lanka's last four did give the Indians a lot of grief in Colombo, but it's nowhere close to what Akram and Co did to Zimbabwe's bowlers in that Sheikhupura Test. Powered by Akram's unbeaten 257, Pakistan's last four batsmen added 336, which remains a record for the most runs scored by the last four batsmen in a single innings (and this despite the Nos. 10 and 11, Waqar Younis and Shahid Nazir, getting ducks). The only other instance of the last four scoring more than 300 was way back in 1908 at the Adelaide Oval, when Australia's tail amassed 307, with hundreds for Roger Hartigan and Clem Hill.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo