The Indian bowling attack is very good, but why they struggle against the tail-enders remain a moot question…..
A steady start and an end with a flourish are one of the most understated lessons taught to athletes who come out in numbers to participates in a race. By not exerting the body in the first part of the race, a player has enough stamina to build on to his calculated beginning, which allows him to pick up pace when the final stretch dawns upon him. If he gives it his all to gain a lead seconds after the race has begun, soon after he will find himself in the back burners, exhausted to push forward and compete with the individuals who have distributed their energy for the three parts of a race.
Pace bowling too follows an almost similar route – where the quicks have the arduous task of dismissing 10 players with varied skill sets and technical abilities. The top four players in the rival camp constitute the best players in the squad, and the job requires the bowlers to come in hard at them by hitting the deck and bouncing them out. The middle order can contain some underrated players as well as some inconsistent ones and is usually the time when the speedsters can afford to take a break as the spinners whip up their magic. However, the issue that has long been plaguing the Indian team is their inability at wiping out the tail.
Numbers eight, nine, ten and eleven, equipped with a nothing-to-lose attitude take the crease with a gait that exudes nonchalance. By putting a hefty price on their wickets, they make the visibly tired bowlers pay for their inconsistent lines and lengths, and the runs that they accumulate end up hurting the cricketers with the cherry more than when a top-order player blitzes away to a ton.
Since the first Test was played in 1877, India have the unfortunate record of allowing the rival tail to wag a little more than what would be preferred. Numbers eight, nine, ten and eleven average 15.86 with the bat in hand against India – the most among England, Australia, West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In the last ten years, this average has increased to 16.70 and a year-by-year study shows that after dipping to 13 in 2016, the average nestles at 15.13 currently, which is much more than South Africa, Pakistan (who in fact are the best at wiping off the tail – allowing them to score at an average of only 11.23 in the last 12 months) and England.
In the ongoing series against England, twice have India allowed the English bowlers to score above 100 runs with the willow, with Sam Curran emerging as the perpetrator on both occasions. At Birmingham, the 20-year-old Curran combined with Adil Rashid to put on 48 frustrating runs for the eighth wicket after England had been reduced to 87 for 7. Stuart Broad and Rashid then put on 41 runs more to effectively take the game away from India.
In the fourth Test at Southampton, Curran was back poking the Indians by scoring 78 runs in the first innings and taking the score from 177 for 8 to 240 for 9, which proved a competitive total in the end. However, it was his knock of 46 after England had been reduced to 178 for 6 that changed the complexion of the series. His resistance and his rigidity to hold one end up pushed the target towards the 250-run mark and India slipped to lose the series. A similar pattern emerged in the ongoing fifth Test as well as the tail offered resistance to bat it out with Jos Buttler, helping take the English score from 181 for 7 to 332.
Jasprit Bumrah bowled too straight and at a perfect length, especially to Rashid and Ishant Sharma aimed at the pads whilst bowling at a length that was outside off constantly to Broad. With impatience and with tiredness writ large on the faces of the Indians, the pacers failed to bowl to their field and it did appear like they had given up after bowling more than 90 overs to the likes of Alastair Cook and Jos Buttler. The absence of Hardik Pandya did not help either, as was openly stated by Bumrah.
“When you have an extra bowler, it gives you some cushion while bowling. When you bowl with four bowlers, you 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.”
However, even when they did play 5 bowlers (at Edgbaston and at Southampton), the Indians were unable to stop the tail from extending the advantage and before the team embarks to Australia, they will have one more issue to sort out – extending their bowling consistency till the end so that the likes of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins do not rip apart Virat Kohli’s team with their bat as well.