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Sting in the tail: India's never-ending misery against the tailenders

The Indian attack had impressively reduced Australia to 111 for 7 on day 2 before Paine single-handedly carried the home team to add 80 more runs to the board, batting with the tail for 18.4 overs more which reduced the first innings gap to 53.

Aratrick Mondal Aratrick Mondal
New Delhi Updated on: December 21, 2020 10:10 IST
Australia's Tim Paine, left, plays a delivery from India's
Image Source : AP

Australia's Tim Paine, left, plays a delivery from India's Jasprit Bumrah, right, on the second day of their cricket test match at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Australia, Friday, Dec. 18

Even before the final four wickets had fallen, the broadcasters flashed the infographic on the lowest-ever Test totals in cricket history. And not more than 15 minutes did it take to add India's name to the list after one of the last two batters, Mohammed Shami, walked off the field with an arm injury. "36 all out" was pointed out, seventh from the top and worst ever for India. A picture of the giant scorecard at the venue with the numbers - 4, 9, 2, 0, 4, 0, 8, 4, 0, 4, 1 - went viral. Words like "carnage", "embarrassing" and "unreal" were used to put together what India had incurred on the third afternoon at the Adelaide Oval. And while commentators and experts were dissecting the batting techniques of the visitors on day 3, Indian skipper Virat Kohli pinned the blame on lack of intent from batsmen in the second innings and dropped catches.

After finishing with 244 on the board, opting to bat first in the opener, the Indian bowlers raged a courageous fightback to reduce the hosts to 191 and subsequently take a significant lead of 53. For the first time ever in the history of the Pink Ball Test, Australia had conceded a first innings lead. But in less than an hour on Saturday afternoon, India were folded for 36, setting a target of 90 that Tim Paine's side chased down roughly within the same number of overs for which the visiting side struggled in the second innings.

But there are more to just "36 all out". As horrifying and stupefying as the total is, a deeper look into the number reveals that India mostly batted in the two most difficult period of a Pink Ball Test under Australian conditions - the first and last session. India lost 14 wickets for 78 runs in 44.3 overs they faced in session one across the three days and 135 runs in 40 in the twilight session for four wickets. In the one time they batted in the second session, on day 1, India scored 66 runs for the loss of just one wicket. Australia, on the other hand, batted for 48.2 overs across the first and last session in the opening Test scoring 149 runs for seven wickets. Where India faltered was against the shiny pink (Overs 1 to 20) that accounted for 16 of their total 19 wickets that fell across the three innings, managing only 113 runs, as against the home team who five more against the new pink ball for the loss of just four wickets.

But what happened on day 3 was beyond their control, even capable of probably castling down any top batting sides across the history of the sport. The ball seamed less than expected, implying more edges than misses, the pitch had quickened more than the earlier sessions and the pace combination of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood just found the right length and line to inflict a carnage that left world cricket stunned.

What indeed was in India's control, besides the dropped catches that Kohli referred to, was one that has troubled India under overseas conditions over the last few years - the wagging tail of the opposition side. The Indian attack had impressively reduced Australia to 111 for 7 on day 2, which included Steve Smith's dismissal for just one. Besides Marnus Labuschagne, none until then, had provided some resistance to the Indian bowlers but Umesh Yadav, in his first over in the final session of that day, removed the No.3 for 47 and then Pat Cummins for a duck. Tim Paine was the last surviving batsman and all India required was to exert pressure on the batsman at the other end. However, a brilliant counter-attacking game from the Aussie skipper while being ably assisted by the bottom three - Mitchell Starc (15 off 16), Nathan Lyon (10 off 21), and Hazlewood (8 off 10), guided Australia from 111 for 7 to 191. Paine single-handedly carried Australia to add 80 more runs to the board, batting with the tail for 18.4 overs more which reduced the first innings gap to 53.

This hasn't been a first of its kind. In 17 away Tests that India have played since 2018, the bowlers were left frustrated by tail-enders on 11 ocassions, the biggest such contribution from the opposition happening in at the Ageas Bowl and the Oval in 2018 by England.

India frustrated by tail-enders since 2018...

Year Against Score from Final score Total contribution Venue
2018 South Africa 221/7 286 65/3 Cape Town
2018 England 87/7 180 93/4 Edgbaston
2018 England 86/6 246 160/4 Rosebowl
2018 England 178/6 271 93/4 Rosebowl
2018 England 181/7 332 151/3 Oval
2018 Australia 127/6 235 108/4 Adelaide
2018 Australia 187/7 291 104/3 Adelaide
2019 West Indies 50/9 100 50/1 Antigua
2020 New Zealand 225/7 348 123/4 Wellington
2020 New Zealand 153/7 236 82/3 Christchurch
2020 Australia 111/7 191 80/3 Adelaide

A deeper look into this issue reveals that India have been among the worst Test teams against the tail, conceding runs at 3.8 per over in away matches since the start of 2010. Only Ireland have conceded at a greater rate. India, however, stands atop in terms of 100-plus runs partnerships conceded (14). No other team has conceded more than 10 such stands.

Tail-end partnerships since 2010 by oppositions...

Opposition Partners Innings Runs Average RR 100 50
v Ireland 11 12 186 15.5 4.59 0 0
v India 235 338 8615 26.67 3.8 14 36
v West Indies 158 197 5091 27.07 3.77 6 26
v Zimbabwe 34 46 1057 27.1 3.57 2 4
v Bangladesh 73 82 2052 27.72 3.54 3 12
v South Africa 170 231 4421 19.56 3.54 1 19
v Australia 242 361 6771 19.45 3.43 4 34
v Sri Lanka 186 242 4954 21.53 3.39 5 22
v England 262 363 8484 24.44 3.37 9 40
v Afghanistan 24 24 586 24.41 3.32 0 4
v New Zealand 178 228 4590 20.76 3.25 6 16
v Pakistan 338 507 9996 20.15 3.15 12 35

Since 2018, India have conceded at 3.40 runs per over against tail-enders, only behind South Africa (4.11) among the top-7 ranked Test nations, while conceding the joint-most number of fifty-plus stands - 11 alongside Australia. The corresponding numbers are the best for India, among all Test-playing nations, when under familiar conditions - 2.86 runs per over on home soil since 2010 and 2.93 since 2018 (with only Zimbabwe behind). 

India will need to search for an answer to tackle the wagging tail in a bid to make an impact on overseas soil, most importantly the present series where they are already 0-1 down.

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