Team India, under the leadership of Virat Kohli, completed their cycle of playing in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries with a mauling inside three days at Christchurch. However, the dismal Test tour of New Zealand does not reflect how the unit competed and fought in the 14 away games in the aforementioned countries since the start of 2018. Though they won just 4 and lost 9 Tests, the fighting spirit and the competitive streak remained a trait that would please Ravi Shastri and Co.
In the end, it all boiled down to small margins. Team India could have proudly flaunted their number one Test ranking (now, a by-product of their dominating wins at home), if they had just stepped up while bowling to the tail, match-after-match. The series loss to England can, in many ways, be attributed to the performances of the English tail, while the Indians just about survived the onslaught of the Australian tail en route their historical win. The recent series against the Kiwis, too, could have had a much closer finish had the bowlers bowled a better line towards the rival batsmen from 8-11.
In 8 of these 14 Tests, the Indian pacers have been brought down by the opposition tailenders. At Birmingham, they had England reeling at 87 for 7 in the second innings after the first essay had ended without much of a difference. However, Sam Curran’s 63 propelled the team to 180, to give India a total of 193 of chase. In the end, it proved to be 31 runs more than what India could manage.
The visitors had England at 86 for 6 in the fourth Test at Southampton, but Curran’s fluent 78 got the team to 246. The following game at The Oval too saw England recover from 181 for 7 to post a promising 332.
Down Under, the last four from Australia stood tall for 69 deliveries at Melbourne in the first essay, and another 195 balls in the next, scoring 88 runs. At Adelaide, the Aussie tail managed to score 155 runs across the two innings, which is what kept India’s victory margin to just 31. At Perth, the tail took the score from 198 for 7 to 243 all out.
In the games against New Zealand, the last four Kiwi wickets added 123 runs at Wellington (taking the team from 225 for 7 to 348), and 82 at Christchurch (they had collapsed to 153 for 7 but ended with 235). The woes against the tail, thus, is no new fable.
An Indian tail that does not wag
India’s inability to wipe out the tail would not have made such news if their own tail had been among the runs, contributing as and when required and scoring crucial runs down the order. While they have given away 1292 runs against numbers 8-11 in SENA countries since 2018 at an average of 18.72, India’s lower order has amassed just 837 runs at an average of 11.31. The above numbers have been bolstered by Ravindra Jadeja’s 86* at The Oval, without which the average of the tail in the interim falls to 9.
Overall, India’s tail have scored at an average of 13.43 (inclusive of home games) since 2018 - the seventh worst in the world. They have conceded as many as 2238 runs against all opponents, across conditions in the last two years. The average of the rival’s tail against India is 16.82, the fourth highest in the world (Afghanistan, Ireland and England top the list), and the numbers paint a frightening picture.
So, what is the reason for allowing the tail to get away?
All the games mentioned have been lost by Team India. The above table presents a concerning picture, more so, because in almost every game, Team India have played with quality pacers, often called the best amongst the current generation. More often that not, the team also takes the field with five bowlers, thus ensuring that the pacers are fit to unleash themselves on the lower order batsmen.
So, what remains the worry? Harsha Bhogle opined that the pacers from India shorten their lengths against the tail, hoping to bounce them out, while Ashish Nehra stated that they are offered width, and advocated bowling at the stumps to attack the tailenders with a consistent line. “It’s not about the length you bowl to tailenders, but the line. The reason Starc and Hazlewood got those runs at Perth was because they were offered width. The Indian pacers did a good job against the top, but once you give the tail width, they will swing their arms freely. Tailenders these days are capable. There is no point bowling a slower ball or yorker to them. Just attack the stumps.”
When MS Dhoni skippered the team, the Test side often saw four regular bowlers take the field, which often caused fatigue. India played at Christchurch with four regular bowlers as well, a point that had been harped upon by Jasprit Bumrah after the Southampton Test.
“When you have an extra bowler, it gives you some cushion while bowling. When you bowl with four bowlers, you tend to bowl more overs as you have to come back [to bowl] quickly. We bowled our hearts out yesterday as well as today, because we bowled a lot of overs. Sometimes, having an extra bowler gives you more rest,” Bumrah had said after the game.
As far as India’s own tail scoring runs is concerned, expecting them to pitch in regularly in away conditions when the side’s top-order looks iffy will be asking for a little too much. However, there is no denying the fact that Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bumrah are all walking wickets. Though Mohammad Shami did have some fun with the bat against the Kiwis, expecting them to tackle the pace and bounce of Trent Boult or Mitchell Starc after having played their cricket on placid wickets in India seems far-fetched.
This is what Ishant had pointed as well, “We try our best to score as many runs as we can. Yes, we might not score as many runs abroad, but that is true for other teams too. When Australia come to India, their tail doesn’t score many runs.”
While Team India do have more glaring flaws to sort before they travel to Australia later this year, bettering the performance against the tail too should remain a top priority.