India's tussles against lower-order batsmen
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.
|Bowling team||Innings||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 p'ships|
|West Indies||107||2731||26.51||2/ 13|
|Sri Lanka||118||2841||25.36||5/ 8|
|South Africa||157||3668||23.81||5/ 19|
|New Zealand||100||2109||21.74||2/ 9|
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.
|Bowling team||Innings||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 p'ships|
|New Zealand||189||4160||23.50||3/ 24|
|Sri Lanka||162||3278||21.42||2/ 14|
|West Indies||231||4619||20.71||2/ 20|
|South Africa||178||3096||18.21||2/ 10|
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.
|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