Indian lower order batting was led by Bhuvneshwar in England © Getty Images
Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have all been successful with the willow in the Indian lower order during the tour of England. However, promoting them up the batting order may not be fruitful writes Arunabha Sengupta
Remember the inaugural World Cup final of 1975? The Australians tumbled mid innings, lost wickets and momentum, were nine down with lots and lots still to get. You will also remember Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson chipping away at the target, with a great combination of guts, luck and common sense. And then with 17 runs separating the sides, Thomson was run-out half-thinking about a run to the keeper. What about Thomson’s other heartbreak, at Melbourne in 1982-83? Allan Border and he had defied odds and logic, with that incredible last wicket partnership which took Australia to a stroke of victory. And then, eyes lighting up at the sight of a half-tracker, he edged it to slip where Geoff Miller held a parry by Chris Tavare.
Then there was the Titan Cup final of 1996-97, Dave Richardson and Pat Symcox came together at 96 for seven and produced an amazing collaboration. They battled all with skill and aplomb, till only 37 runs remained to be scored, and then suddenly both fell within one run of each other. And, finally, who can forget the wild flat batted slog of Nayan Mongia off Waqar Younis at Chennai in 1998-99? It effectively broke the hearts of billions of Indian fans, after Sachin Tendulkar had played perhaps the most gruelling innings of his career to bring India within a whisker of victory.
There are many, many examples of such occurrences in cricket, when the late order batsmen have rallied admirably with situation has looked all but hopeless. And then,with hope dawning like silver lining around the darkest clouds of despair, they have lost their way with the win in sight. Of course, there are counter examples. Andy Roberts and Derek added those 64 runs to bring off a remarkable victory over Pakistan at Birmingham in 1975. Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble performed a similar miracle against Australia at Bangalore. Mushtaq Ahmed did it with Inzamam ul Haq at Karachi, Ewan Chatfield with Jeremy Coney in Dunedin, and Ishant Sharma with VVS Laxman at Mohali. But, such acts of lower order heroics have turned legendary because they are rare.
The following statistic bears out this phenomenon. Of the 84 partnerships of over 50 runs for the last three wickets that have taken place in the fourth innings of a Test match, only eight have been scored in a winning cause, as many as 62 in losing ones. The most famous is perhaps the Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud collaboration which almost won the Brisbane Test for Australia against West Indies in 1960-61, but finished just that bit short. And then Joe Solomon threw down the stumps of Ian Meckiff with the scores tied.
The lower order can bat wonderfully if there is nothing to lose, when there is not a care in the world, no responsibility on the shoulder. When odds are insurmountable, the performance shines through. The moment the task becomes tangible, a dark shadow encroaches on the effort. The progress, that crosses mountains while the goal is unseen, stumbles over smallest road-bump with the end in sight. With the success of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Stuart Binny in the batting line up, there are voices wondering if they cannot be pushed up the order. Ravichandran Ashwin has often been superb with the bat, and opinions have been put forward for his name to be slotted at No 6. But, therein lies the problem.
Part of the success of the Indian lower order batsmen can be attributed to their being exactly that – the lower order. They have performed partly because no one ever expected them to. Their roles did not demand it of them. The runs flowed as a by-product of their principal occupation, a bonus, a nice to have asset not budgeted for. There is a possibility that the moment the additional load of responsibility is thrust on their shoulders, the willows will be burdened by the added expectation and will not swing through as freely. Unless it is a conscious change of role as in the case of a Ravi Shastri or a Wilfred Rhodes, the tail should perhaps be allowed to wag unfettered.
Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)