Numbers Game July 18, 2014

A year for lower-order batting heroics

Lower-order partnership stats have remained remarkably constant over the last five decades, but there's been a huge leap in the first seven months of 2014

All stats exclude the ongoing Lord's Test between England and India.

Stuart Broad has played several crucial hands down the order over the last few years © Getty Images

The last month has been outstanding for lower-order batting in Test cricket. The Trent Bridge match produced a slew of records about which plenty has been written, but even outside that match there have been some memorable lower-order efforts in the last month. In the second innings of the Headingley Test between England and Sri Lanka, Angelo Mathews added 149 for the eighth wicket with Rangana Herath, which eventually turned out to be a match-winning partnership as the margin of victory was 100 runs. A few days later, Jason Holder and Shane Shillingford added 77 for the eighth wicket in the fourth innings in Barbados, after Mark Craig and Jimmy Neesham had added 64 for the eighth in New Zealand's first innings. In the ongoing Galle Test too, South Africa's tail - in partnership with JP Duminy - turned an average total into an impressive one. For the eighth wicket, Duminy added 75 with Vernon Philander; for the ninth, he added 66 with Morne Morkel.

In the last three Tests plus South Africa's first innings in Galle, the lower order (last three wickets) have, in 33 partnerships, gone past 50 ten times - including three century stands - and average 40.83 runs per completed partnership; during the same period, the top seven wickets have averaged 36.10 runs per wicket, with only four century partnerships in 91 attempts.

The lower order has clearly over-performed in the last few games, but is there a larger trend of the tail scoring more runs now than they used to in the past? It's clear that 2014 has been a great year for tailenders with the bat, but there doesn't seem to be a longer period for their dominance. The decade-wise stats for the last three partnerships (for wickets 8 to 10) and for batsmen who bat at No. 8 or lower shows little change over the last five decades. In the 1950s, the averages were relatively lower among the tail, but then the top-order numbers were also slightly lower during that period - they averaged 33.58 in the '50s, and more than 37 in the next three decades. The numbers for the tail have stayed fairly constant from the 1960s through to the 2000s. Since the beginning of 2010, the average has climbed beyond 19, and while that's the highest it's been in the last 60 years, it's still only a 6% increase over the 2000s.

How the tail has fared with the bat over the decades
  P'ships for wkts 8-10 Averages for batsmen 8-11
Period P'ships Ave stand 100/ 50 stands Inngs Ave 100s/ 50s
1950s 747 14.49 4/ 62 1846 14.05 8/ 43
1960s 817 18.25 13/ 116 2107 15.78 8/ 80
1970s 726 17.59 13/ 112 2234 14.79 2/ 70
1980s 1036 18.71 21/ 151 2823 16.05 10/ 104
1990s 1339 17.25 26/ 187 3883 14.34 10/ 122
2000s 1717 18.09 45/ 250 5247 15.51 27/ 177
2010s 766 19.15 22/ 121 2136 16.67 18/ 75

The big difference has been in 2014, though only half the year is through so far, and it remains to be seen if a similar trend will continue through the rest of the year. So far in 2014, though, the tail has sparkled, putting in considerably better performances than in the recent past, averaging 25.79 per partnership. In fact, the last time they averaged more per partnership in a calendar year was in 1938, and there have been only three instances of higher averages in a calendar year - in 1903, 1897, and 1938.

Already in 148 lower-order partnerships in 2014, there have been three century stands; in 383 partnerships last year there were only five, while in 2011 there was one century stand in 338 attempts.

The year before that was a much better one for lower-order batting, though: there were nine century partnerships in 344 innings, which is the joint-highest ever in a calendar year. One of those nine century stands was worth 332 for the eighth wicket, between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad against Pakistan at Lord's. There were also two century stands for the tenth wicket that year: 107 not out between AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan, and 105 between Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth in Hyderabad against New Zealand.

In terms of batting performances too, there have been three hundreds by lower-order batsmen this year in 202 innings this year, which is more than the number of hundreds they managed in 477 innings in 2012. In terms of average partnerships, 2014 has been 39% better than last year, while the batting averages are a 41% improvement over 2013.

Year-wise stats for lower-order batting since Jan 2008
  P'ships for wkts 8-10 Averages for batsmen 8-11
Year P'ships Ave stand 100/ 50 stands inngs Ave 100s/ 50s
2014 148 25.72 4/ 19 202 21.52 3/ 11
2013 383 18.46 5/ 31 522 15.27 4/ 17
2012 348 18.30 3/ 22 477 16.53 2/ 18
2011 338 16.85 1/ 23 463 16.10 4/ 12
2010 344 20.33 9/ 26 472 16.93 5/ 17
2009 328 18.30 3/ 22 456 17.96 3/ 21
2008 390 18.06 4/ 26 539 15.39 1/ 26

Since the beginning of 2008, Australia and South Africa have been the two best teams in terms of getting the most out of their lower-order batsmen, and preventing the opposition's tail from scoring too many. Australia's own lower order has averaged 23.17 runs per partnership during this period, while opposition teams have only managed 17.51 against them. Similarly, South Africa's lower order has averaged 22.15 with the bat, while opposition teams have managed 16.89 against them.

On the other hand, West Indies have averaged only 16.56 with the bat, and conceded 21.01 with the ball. Pakistan have generally been a team that have had the bowlers to get opposition tailenders out cheaply, but not in the last six years: their bowlers have conceded 21 runs per partnership, with four century and 17 half-century stands. One of those stands was worth 332, by Jonathan Trott and Broad at Lord's in 2010; another was worth 123, between Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle, for the ninth wicket in Sydney earlier the same year, and turned a winning situation into defeat. In fact, the four century partnerships they've conceded during this period all came in 2010. Meanwhile, their lower-order batting has been poor too, scoring only 14.15 runs per partnership.

India's bowlers have been quite generous too, conceding 20.65 runs per stand. However, they've been especially poor when bowling against the tail in overseas conditions: when playing outside of home comfort, they've leaked 26.14 runs per partnership against the last three opposition wickets, which is easily the worst among all teams - the next-poorest is West Indies with an average of 23.41. When playing at home India concede only 16.68 per partnership.

Lower-order partnership stats for and against each team since Jan 2008
  Batting team Bowling team
Team Inngs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands Inngs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands
Australia 321 23.17 5/ 34 363 17.51 6/ 20
South Africa 199 22.15 3/ 21 280 16.89 2/ 20
England 309 21.55 6/ 27 369 19.60 6/ 24
India 280 18.43 5/ 20 283 20.65 5/ 27
New Zealand 273 17.68 1/ 19 247 17.58 2/ 15
Bangladesh 179 17.43 3/ 12 92 18.86 2/ 5
Sri Lanka 202 17.26 4/ 12 212 17.76 0/ 17
West Indies 267 16.56 1/ 13 190 21.01 2/ 20
Pakistan 194 14.15 1/ 9 199 21.00 4/ 17
Zimbabwe 55 13.37 0/ 2 44 17.82 0/ 4

England's lower-order batsmen are prominent among those with the best numbers among batting pairs for the last three wickets since 2008. Prior, Broad and Swann all figure multiple times among the top few pairs: the Broad-Swann combination added 445 runs in 17 partnerships at an average of 26.17 per stand, while Broad and Prior have scored 405 at an average of 50.62; Swann batted often with Prior and Anderson too, and put together more than 340 partnership runs with each. (Click here for the full list.) Swann's retirement has thus hurt England not just in the bowling department, but the team will be glad they've got Ben Stokes in their line-up now. He hasn't played a great deal yet, but early indications are he could cause opposition bowlers plenty of headaches too.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter