July 29, 2011

India's tussles against lower-order batsmen

India's bowlers have historically struggled against lower-order batsmen, and that came to the fore again at Lord's

England dominated most of the proceedings in the Lord's Test, but on the fourth morning there was a brief passage of play when India's depleted bowling attack suddenly had England on the back foot. They were still in front due to their significant first-innings lead, but at 62 for 5, and then at 107 for 6, there was a real possibility that India's final target could have been around 350 or less. It would have been tough, but India would have had at least an outside chance. As it turned out, all those Indian hopes were scuttled by a magnificent counterattack by Matt Prior and Stuart Broad - it snuffed out whatever little chance India had of victory, and left them batting for survival, which they ultimately couldn't manage.

Those who'd been following Indian cricket for a while recognised it as another instance of their bowlers getting the top order cheaply and then failing to finish the job. Zaheer Khan's absence was obviously a factor, but was it also an old Indian malaise rearing its head again?

In the 1990s and earlier, India was known for its inability to get the lower-order batsmen out cheaply, especially in overseas series. Over the last few years, this aspect has admittedly improved, but the stats below suggest that tailenders would still prefer to bat against India than most of the other top Test teams today. Over the last six and a half years (since the beginning of 2005), the average partnership for wickets seven to 10 in a home game against India (i.e. India playing overseas) is 25.17, which is among the higher ones for the top teams - only Zimbabwe, West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have a poorer average as a bowling unit in overseas Tests. The three best bowling units against the lower order in overseas Tests are from Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan - all of them average less than 22 runs per wicket.

The other stat that stands out is the number of times lower-order batsmen have strung together century stands against India in these matches - 11 times, in 231 innings, which is an average of once every 21 innings. Against most of the other top teams, this average is excess of 30: it's 35.5 against England, 31.4 against South Africa, 33.5 against Pakistan, 50 against New Zealand and 42.2 against Australia. Clearly there's something about the Indian bowlers that tail-end batsmen seem to like, especially when the team travel.

When the Indians play at home, on the other hand, the opposition tail have found it much harder to score off them - the average partnership in this case is only 20.05.

Partnerships for wickets 7-10 in overseas Tests* since 2005
Bowling team Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 p'ships
Zimbabwe 12 441 36.75 1/ 2
West Indies 107 2731 26.51 2/ 13
Bangladesh 49 1170 25.43 1/ 6
Sri Lanka 118 2841 25.36 5/ 8
India 231 5488 25.17 11/ 20
England 213 4949 24.37 6/ 22
South Africa 157 3668 23.81 5/ 19
Pakistan 201 4329 21.97 6/ 11
New Zealand 100 2109 21.74 2/ 9
Australia 211 4349 21.21 5/ 17
* Overseas Tests for the bowling side

In the 1990s, though, it was even worse. Through much of that period, India had only one two high-quality fast bowlers, and the spinners often struggled for penetration in not-so-helpful conditions abroad. The result was that once the lead fast bowlers - mostly Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad - flagged in the latter part of the innings, opposition batsmen - even those batting lower down the order - had plenty of opportunity to make merry. The partnership average for the tail against India in these games was more than 28, which was significantly higher than the average against any of the other top sides.

Also, as in the last six years, in the 1990s too there were many more century stands against India than against the other sides: the tail averaged one century partnership every 22 innings against India; against the other top sides, it was far more difficult to put together hundred partnerships. The average against South Africa was one every 89 innings; against the West Indies attack of the 1990s, it was once every 115 innings.

During that period, the gulf between India and the best teams was huge: Pakistan, Australia and South Africa gave away around 10 fewer runs per partnership, which added up into a significant difference in the overall team scores.

Partnerships for wkts 7-10 in overseas Tests in the 1990s
Bowling team Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 p'ships
India 178 4631 28.06 8/ 18
Zimbabwe 70 1760 27.50 2/ 11
New Zealand 189 4160 23.50 3/ 24
Sri Lanka 162 3278 21.42 2/ 14
West Indies 231 4619 20.71 2/ 20
England 271 5158 19.99 3/ 29
South Africa 178 3096 18.21 2/ 10
Australia 311 5423 17.89 5/ 23
Pakistan 243 4113 17.28 6/ 13
* Overseas Tests for the bowling side

Not surprisingly, the list of century stands made by the lower-order batsmen when their teams were in trouble is dominated by one team under the opposition column: India. Of the 12 such partnerships in Tests - when the team was six or more wickets down with less than 150 on the board - since the beginning of 2005, eight have been scored against India.

Topping that list, in terms of lowest team score when the partnership began, is the 115 runs that Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal added in Karachi in 2006. Irfan Pathan had started the match off with a sensational hat-trick in his first over, but the Razzaq-Akmal stand took Pakistan to a reasonably comfortable total of 245, and that inspired the rest of the team to such an extent that the final result of the match was a 341-run victory for Pakistan.

The next game in the list was also against India, when Jesse Ryder and Daniel Vettori stitched together 186 after New Zealand had been 60 for 6 in Hamilton. This stand didn't cost India the game, though - they still ended up winning by 10 wickets. The Prior-Broad stand at Lord's is eighth in this list, and there are three more partnerships against India to wrap up the list.

Century stands for last four wickets at entry scores of < 150 (in home Tests, since Jan 2005)
Pair For wkt P'ship runs Entry score Against Venue, year
Razzaq-Akmal 7 115 39/ 6 India Karachi, 2006
Ryder-Vettori 7 186 60/ 6 India Hamilton, 2009
Harbhajan-Laxman 7 163 65/ 6 New Zealand Ahmedabad, 2010
Blignaut-Masakadza 7 116 85/ 6 India Harare, 2005
Broad-Prior 8 119 94/ 7 Pakistan The Oval, 2010
Mahmudullah-Mushfiqur 7 108 98/ 6 India Chittagong, 2010
Broad-Trott 8 332 102/ 7 Pakistan Lord's 2010
Broad-Prior 7 162* 107/ 6 India Lord's 2011
Broad-Swann 8 108 120/ 7 Australia Headingley, 2009
Mendis-Samaraweera 9 118 125/ 8 India Colombo, 2010
Boucher-Kallis 7 103 130/ 6 India Cape Town
Hogg-Symonds 7 173 134/ 6 India Sydney, 2008

While India's bowlers have struggled against the opposition lower order in overseas Tests, their own lower order has done pretty well, averaging 22.26 per partnership in overseas Tests since 2005. That isn't far away from New Zealand, the leaders, who average 24.19. Only Australia (23.77) and South Africa (23.25) are ahead of the Indians, and that too not by much. (Click here for the full list of team-wise partnerships in overseas Tests since the beginning of 2005, and here to check out the best lower-order pairs in these matches.) The lack of bowling firepower against the opposition tail, though, continues to hurt India.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ravi on July 31, 2011, 19:14 GMT

    india always lacked a genuine fast bowler and this is the only reason you have to write such an article

  • Alexander on July 31, 2011, 2:38 GMT

    One of the more noticable aspects of that lowest table is the number of times Broad appears as a saviour with the bat. Perhaps they should drop Morgan, promote Prior to 6, Broad to 7 and play a 5 man bowling attack, after all, Prior and Broad are both massively outscoring everyone except Pieterson, so maybe England should capatalise on that.

  • Spicy on July 30, 2011, 10:16 GMT

    0 = Number of times we had the passion to learn from failures and past performance of not folding up lower order batsmen

  • K on July 29, 2011, 22:36 GMT

    After this, every team will now send a batsman or two towards the end when playing against India.

  • Crazy on July 29, 2011, 21:36 GMT

    your timing couldn't be better..Ind bowlers let eng to reach 221 from 124/8...same old story..back in SA series, Lords & Now..

  • mahesh on July 29, 2011, 20:37 GMT

    And your analysis proved spot on in Trentbridge - India let Broad and Swann come back to make it a match

  • gunjan on July 29, 2011, 20:11 GMT

    I absolutely hate it when lower order batsmen come out to bat and start to destroy India's bowling. It is so agonizing to see that. I mean after you have worked SO hard to remove world-class batsmen, why should struggle to dismiss 8, 9, 10. Keep doing what you have done, and you should have no problem. OK, maybe they have just come to hit, but it shouldn't turn out to be almost a 100-run partnership. That is simply ridiculous. If India were tottering the same way, I am pretty sure 8,9,10 would NOT have stuck around, except for the rare Bhajji innings, but even he needs some support from the other end from say a middle-order batsman who is still batting with him. This was 9,10 batting it out! Please don't continue doing this, or it could really hurt them!

  • Andy on July 29, 2011, 19:29 GMT

    the only way I looked at over the years is, Indian tail scores meager runs hardly 50 runs for last 4 wickets where as we give the oppositions more than 200 runs, our tail can't wag but we can let others tail wag. Wow! our bowlers do have a lot of sympathy for the tail order over the years

  • Asker on July 29, 2011, 19:16 GMT

    They should address this chronic desease on an emergency footing, include this as a top priority during, planning, strategising, training etc. They lack the killer instinct or they are over confident and take the tailenders lightly or they lose the steam in the first few overs. What we need is some one like Kumble who can tease and tantalise the tailenders or some fast bowler who can bounce or bowl yorkers at will with good pace and accuracy like Akram, Waqar, Ambrose, Donald, Malinga. Even some of our best bowlers like Kapil, Sreenath, Zaheer have never mastered the art of bowling yorkers and that too with unerring accuracy and pace which could come handy in bowling the batsmen both frontline and tailenders. Hope the management, team management and coaching staff address this problem and Dhoni takes a serious note of this and last but not the least we need considerable improvement in fielding and catching.. someone like Solkar or Abid Ali but I guess in this area Abid Ali can help.

  • ian on July 29, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    And so it proved today at Trent Bridge where Broad, Swann and Anderson added nearly a hundred on a wicket that was giving massive assistance to swing/seam bowlers! And Dhoni showed his limitations as a captain by not preventing Broad from farming the bowling by bringing the fielders in at the appropriate times. It is this attention to detail that helps mark out a good captain from an average one - which is what Dhoni is. By the end of the match these missed tricks may assume even greater significance...

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