India's Tail is Beginning to Wag, And It's Making a Difference


Now is an ideal time to revisit what India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said about the efforts put in by the tailenders, a couple of days prior to the Test series against England.

“Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, Umesh and Ishant are putting in the effort in the nets. Whatever 20-30 runs we score in end, matters a lot. It’s good that they are wanting to bat for at least 10-12 minutes in the nets. See result comes later and what is important is the process and working hard, and contribute as a member of the team. We are hoping for some contributions from our tail-enders.”

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Two Tests into the series, results are already evident.

In the first Test at Nottingham, India went from 205 for 6 to 278-all out, or an addition of 73 runs for the last four wickets. While the first innings of the Lord’s Test saw India adding only 33 runs for the last four wickets, the story was much different on the final day. Come second innings, it was a Mohammed Shami-Jasprit Bumrah show, with the bat.

India were 209 for 8 when the duo came together, the lead not strong enough for them to feel comfortable. They ended up adding 89 in an partnership that was broken only by a declaration from Virat Kohli. It was a partnership that set up the victory for India on the fifth day.

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One stat that shows how incredible that stand was: India’s numbers 9-11 tallied only 74 runs in five Tests in the 2018 tour of England.

India had taken a risky decision to play all four seamers this Test in the absence of Shardul Thakur, given the length of the tail. The four pacers, barring Ishant to an extent, are not known for their batting skills. Earlier in the innings, Jos Buttler was heard encouraging his bowlers, saying they needed only two wickets to get to Shami. Can’t blame him for thinking their bowlers would blow away India’s tail.

However, that wasn’t to be. Ishant first added a vital 16 runs before Shami made his half-century, and Bumrah made a career best 34*. The intent was visible; in 2018, the same players would not be adding a price tag on their wickets. Here, they were.

They were also aided by some terrible tactics from England. Joe Root and the pacers seemed more keen on revenge than taking wickets; Bumrah had rattled James Anderson with short balls in the first inning, and England’s pacers seemed keen to give it back to him. Plenty of quick short ones came Bumrah’s way, one even hitting his head.

But none of that could get his wicket, for England forgot the larger aim. The field was spread out, giving easy singles to Shami and Bumrah. As England continued their baffling approach, India’s lead kept rising.

Much of the credit should go to the batting coach, Vikram Rathour, as well. The progress was evident in India’s triumph in Australia too. In an interview to ESPNcricinfo after that series, Rathour had spoken about the tail’s batting:

“The only thing I discussed with them is to try and spend more time, don’t look to throw your wicket, don’t look to play crazy shots and get out. After that discussion I could see the change in the attitude. The more practice you give them, the more comfortable they feel in the middle. That again is one area we still need to keep working on.”

The challenge for India now will be to repeat the success through the series. Their failure, especially when compared to the English counterparts, was one of the reasons for their loss last tour. Can they change it this time?

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