August 13, 2010

The batting talent of tailenders

Lower-order batsmen have been improving over the last decade, and the most recent examples of this were the two Tests last week
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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.

Decade-wise averages of No. 8-11 batsmen since 1950
Decade Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
1950s 164 19,373 14.05 8/ 43
1960s 186 24,570 15.78 8/ 80
1970s 198 24,612 14.79 2/ 70
1980s 266 33,901 16.05 10/ 104
1990s 347 42,500 14.34 10/ 122
2000s 464 61,833 15.51 27/ 177
2010s 25 3878 18.46 2/ 13

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-wise partnership stats for the last three wickets (8-10) since 1950
Decade Partnerships P'ship runs Average stand 100/ 50 stands
1950s 1348 18,985 14.49 4/ 62
1960s 1537 26,978 18.25 13/ 116
1970s 1624 27,464 17.59 13/ 112
1980s 2053 36,753 18.71 21/ 151
1990s 2832 47,258 17.25 26/ 187
2000s 3821 66,962 18.09 45/ 250
2010s 206 4029 20.34 5/ 16

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.

Best batsmen at positions 8-11 since 1950 (Qual: 50 innings)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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.

Best batting pairs for wickets 8-11 since 1950 (Qual: 10 partnerships)
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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 14, 2010, 8:09 GMT

    there are some other factors important here - certainly it seems that coaches are more aware of the importance of the lower order getting runs, but there have also been some significant changes in the game that are going to favour lower order batsmen. The use of helmets and better protective gear, limits on bouncers, and shorter boundaries have all contributed. You could argue that this helps all batsmen equally (it would be interesting to see a breakdown of lower order avarages as a proportion of runs scored) but I suspect that such changes help the lesser talents much more than the top order. Interesting article as ever!

  • Hassaan on August 14, 2010, 7:18 GMT

    these stats reflect one thing and one thing only...tht bowlers in the current decade have been really poor at knocking over tail-enders rather than it being tail-enders showing greater courage and fight...i would like to see these very same guys mithuns and the mishra and ajmals bat against Akram, Younis, Donald, Ambrose....those guys showed the world a way of ensuring that tailenders dint stay out there for too long...and that was to attack their stumps and toes...not a single bowler in the world today can produce yorkers as good as the W's or Donald( U.Gul and Malinga are decent) and that is disappointing. In fact they prefer to go for the short stuff which I doubt would scare a tail ender wid all the protective gear that he's got ( unless the bowler is as quick as Akhter or Tait)

  • muhamad on August 13, 2010, 15:02 GMT

    FIRST A FALL THANK,S TO THE STAT,S TEAM WHO GIVEN THIA ANALYSIS. CRICKET HAS CHANGE A LOT IN THESE 10 TO 20 YEARS.IF U WANT TO WIN MATCHES OR WANT TO GIVE A RESISTANCE TO THE OPPOSITION .U MUST HAVE STRONG LOWER ORDER TO AND NOT ONLY DEPEND ON TOP SIX. AND WE ARE SEEING THE RESULT THAT HOW VALUABLE ARE LOWER ORDER PLAYERS WHO PERFORM AND FOR EXP SAVE THEIR TEAM FROM FOLLOW ON OR SAVE THEIR TEAM FROM A HUMILIATING DEFEAT .AND FROM THE INDIAN POINT OF VIEW IT,S GOOD FOR THEM WHICH WE SEEN IN SRI LANKA .NOT ONLY MISHRA OR MITHUN EVEN ISHANT SHARMA MANAGE TO PLAY 1OO BALLS TO GIVE SOME RESISTANCE THESE TYPE OF INNINGS AUTOMATICALLY CREATE PRESSURE ON THE OPPOSITION

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2010, 13:48 GMT

    it is indeed improved .. what are you talking about .. put apart the calculation os averages ... just look into the number of 100/50 scored in 2010.

    If we compare with previous deacde 2000s and consider that at leas 464 tests will be played this decade also then see below ..

    in 25 tests in 2010s - number of 100s are 2 in 464 tests in 2010s - number of 100s will be 37+ (27 in 2000s)

    similarly

    in 25 tests in 2010s - number of 50s are 13 in 464 tests in 2010s - number of 50s will be 241+ (177 in 2000s)

    Hence increasing the chances of number of matches won by these performances .. and many more factors due to these performances ...

    -Navneet

  • Geoff on August 13, 2010, 11:53 GMT

    Slight factual inaccuracy in this article - Gillespie's famous double century was not at Fatullah but at Chittagong in the second test. He scored the doube batting at number three, as night watchman. Gilchrist wasn't needed to bat in that innings! So the stats in this article don't include that innings.

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2010, 9:13 GMT

    I wonder just how much effect the naturally aggressive tendencies of modern top order batsmen, especially when taken in conjuction with pitches that offer little seam movement or slow, tardy spin, has to do with this recent trend. Quite frequently, I get the impression that the top order batsmen end up getting themselves out by playiing that proverbial one-shot-too-many while there isn't enough in the pitch for the bowlers to run through tail end batsmen hell-bent on defending. The scarcity of high quality fast bowlers able to rip out the stumps doesn't help either.

  • Vijayasanan on August 13, 2010, 8:35 GMT

    Doesn't it make more sense to publish this article in 2019?

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2010, 8:28 GMT

    Bowlers have started to pay more attention to their batting. We live in an era of super-competition, and no one can stay dependent on just one ability, unlike the days of the old, when India was virtually all-out when Engineer fell at No. 6-7 ;)

  • Ian on August 13, 2010, 8:25 GMT

    I have had that feeling that the lower order has been performing well over the past few years. However, as you say the decades with highest averages include the '60s and the '80s along side the 2000s, I wonder if this recent impression has been exaggerated by a corresponding dip in performance of the top order, with the lower order coming in to rescue innings. Without these innings we would have seen a larger number of low scores. So other stats to add would be the percentage of innings scored by tailenders and the corresponding averages by the top order.

  • Billy on August 13, 2010, 4:58 GMT

    Another stat which would be useful in this discussion is the number of balls faced by tailenders. The higher the number of balls faced, the more frustrated the opposition captain and opposition opening batsmen become and this can lead to future wickets as well as saving Test matches if time is an issue.

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