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The failure of the Indian attack to clean up the Aussie tail in the recent Melbourne test gave fans of Team India their once-a-tour deja vu. My own “tail wagging against India” virginity was taken cruelly from me on the eve of my twelfth standard board exam! What I thought would be India’s first significant overseas win in a decade turned out to be a celebration of South African batting depth. Ever since then Indian fans have had to endure the success of many a tail ender against India. Whether it was Moin Khan and riff raff in Kolkata, 1999 or Brad Hogg in Sydney, 2008 history is rife with lower order batting inflicting consistent uncommon damage to the fortunes of Indian cricket.

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On the eve of the first and most important test match India will play all year, I decided to objectively analyze India’s performance against opposition lower order batsmen to try and contextualize the subjective hypothesis of complete lack of success. Through the course of the article, unless otherwise mentioned, I focus on test matches played between January 1 2000 and December 31 2011. Accounting for their considerable successes, I have grouped India, England, Australia and South Africa as Tier A test teams. I have grouped Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies together as Tier B teams. To remove noise from data and to account for the relative parity that exists between the aforementioned eight teams, I have also not taken into account any test matches involving Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.

Here’s three questions I tried to answer –

a) How good or bad when compared to Tier A teams, is the Indian bowling against lower order batsmen? Is there a difference in performance of Indian bowling against lower order batsmen at home as compared to away from home?

The short answer is what one expects: NOT GOOD and YES!!!!

The long answer: Table 1 summarizes how much worse than other teams the Indian attack has been away from home in terms of getting rid of the lower order batsmen. Not only has the Indian attack conceded almost 10 runs more per wicket when playing England, Australia and South Africa away than at home, they have been worse than all of those teams have been away from home.

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A teams away from home

India

18.08

27.58

South Africa

21.89

26.27

England

19.86

22.83

Australia

19.75

20.70

Table 1

To belabor the point made above, the Indian attack for over a decade has conceded 112 runs per inning to the tail of a good test team on the road. This is about 40 runs worse than when the games happen in India and about 30 runs more than the Indian tail averages against opposition both home and away. (India’s lower order has averaged 20.45 at home and 20.31 away from home against Tier A teams during the period 2000-2011).

When expanded to include Tier B (Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies), Table 2 shows how the Tier A teams stack up. While the Indian attack still fares the worst, the gap is bridged significantly. This definitely correlates with the increased series success India has had against the four tier B teams while having such success only once against any of the tier A teams.

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A & B teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A & B teams away from home

India

18.92

24.9

South Africa

19.88

24.33

England

19.86

22.83

Australia

18.72

19.52

Table 2

b) Does the Indian bowling against lower order correlate with their bowling against top order batsmen?

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So we see that the Indian bowling is worse against lower order batsmen when compared to the Australian, English and South African attacks. But does this difference carry over when compared across the top and middle order batsmen?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer: Exciting Table 3 and Table 4 time!

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A teams away from home

India

43.57

49.96

South Africa

37.79

44.11

England

47.07

44.71

Australia

42.26

37.96

Table 3

The Indian attack is even worse than their tier A counterparts when it comes to dismissing top and middle order batsmen. On average the Indian attack concedes 300 runs per 6 top order wickets in England, Australia and South Africa! About how much we’d expect to be scored by a batting line up of three Sehwags and three VVS Laxmans. When expanded to include Tier B teams (Table 4), the Indian attack’s performance doesn’t change much. While the other Tier A teams actually improve their success against top orders in this scenario, the Indian attack behaves fairly similar especially at home!

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A & Tier B teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A & Tier B teams away from home

India

43.56

47.66

South Africa

33.8

43.53

England

39.08

44.23

Australia

35.91

37.28

Table 4

c) So, Indian bowling has not been very good. Anything else, here ?

Well, if we’re looking for silver linings, all of India’s metrics are way better than the equivalent ones from the 1990s. To those scarred by the decade that brought us Noel David, David Johnson and Aashish Kapoor, I have soothing data that says – Yes, those were the worst of times!! The Indian attack of the 1990s conceded almost four runs more per wicket away from home and were much worse than other teams.

Otherwise, the numbers back up visual, anecdotal and subjective opinions on India’s bowling especially away from home. Over the last 12 years, India have been much worse against all batsmen away from home especially to the tail end of top tier teams. As a fan, every time I see the sixth wicket fall, I mentally prepare myself for the next inning to commence. These numbers prove that it would be a terrible idea to think that way about India. When a tier A team is into its eighth batsman against India, it is by no means the beginning of the end. On average, the team is a 120 runs from the end!!!

Until the bowling improves and gets closer to top teams, the team is constantly going to put more pressure on their batting than any of the other teams are. And if you are an India fan watching the test at the SCG this week, even if Australia is a 120/6, remember to add another 120 to keep expectations realistic !!

P.S: All statistics here courtesy the wonderful people behind STATSGURU on www.cricinfo.com .

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