When Ben Stokes got Virat Kohli out for 62 on the second day of third Test between India and England at Mohali, India found itself in a thick spot. The formidable bowling attack available at India’s arsenal had done their job on the first day and had bowled out England for a meager total of 283. In their reply, India had lost their sixth wicket with just 204 runs on the board. It was up to the lower batting order to come out and cover up the remaining trail.
R Ashwin, who already had four Test centuries before, needed to stay on the crease with Ravindra Jadeja who was yet to establish himself as a Test batsman despite a fifty at Lord’s. The next to follow was the new boy on the block Jayant Yadav, playing only his second Test. What followed was not what England bowlers expected.
The trio added on 210 runs for the team. In the process, Jadeja made his highest score of 90 runs (which, along with four wickets in the match, also won him the man of the match). Jayant recorded his first Test half century and scored crucial 55 runs. Ashwin also played a brilliant innings of 72 runs. It was the first time in India’s cricketing history (and seventh time, overall) that the batsmen at no. 7, no. 8 and no. 9 had all recorded half centuries. India had taken a healthy lead over the rivals and eventually went on to win the match.
These were the ‘unsung’ heroes for Indian team throughout the series – the lower batting order or, as they are often called as, ‘the tailenders’. Whenever India found itself in a tough spot, the tail chipped in with bat and made sure they play as the situation demanded.
In the first match, when India lost quick wickets and were on the brink of losing on the fifth day, Jadeja provided the stability in the final session alongside Kohli and played out the remainder of the Test. Jadeja scored 32 runs in 33 balls and ensured a draw from a precarious position.
The all-rounder not only took 26 wickets at an average of 25.84 – his career best – in the series but also scored 224 runs at an average of over 37 with two half centuries. His fellow spinner, Ashwin also displayed consistent batting performance and scored 306 runs in the series at an average of over 43, apart from 28 wickets he took in the series at an average of 30.25.
The duo was helped at the tail by the new-found talent Jayant who became a huge thorn for England bowlers with his ability to stay at the crease. He scored useful 35 and 27* runs in his first Test. In his first international tournament, the 26-year Haryana player scored a century and a half ton to record an average of 73.66 with the bat. He scored 221 runs in the series and also claimed nine wickets at an average of 29.55. He became the only Indian player to score a century after coming in to bat at No. 9.
The performances of the lower order was appreciated by Man of the Series Kohli himself. In the press conference, the skipper recalled the tough times India had faced against opposition’s tailenders in the past and acknowledged how frustrating it can be for the fielding side. “As a side, when you get five-six wickets, you think the game is going to get over soon. Your batsmen go into that zone and then suddenly you have to field for 60-70 more overs… We experienced that in the past when other teams have done it against us. So it’s great to see our guys stepping up and actually making it count,” Kohli said after winning the third Test at Mohali.
Kohli was right. India has had a long history of bad experiences with tailenders snatching games away from them. It was the trio of Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann who frustrated Indian bowlers when India visited England for a four-match series back in 2011. Both Broad and Bresnan recorded two half centuries in the series which India lost 4-0. Similar trend took place against South Africa in the 2013 Durban Test, when India got the hosts reeling at 199 for 5, but the lower order was able to take the score to 500. In 2014, India had to face massive defeats against England at Manchester and at Brisbane against Australia, after struggling to send the tailenders back to pavilion.
According to statistics, there has been seven instances since 2010 when the opposition has lost five wickets below 250 and yet gone on to score 400 against India. India has conceded an average of 84 runs against batsmen at no. 7, no. 8 and no. 9 when playing overseas – which is the worst by any team. Kohli knew how important it was for his team to display batting strength down the order to frustrate the opposition – being on the wrong side of the situation on numerous occasions in the past.
India’s lower order batsmen can take pride in the fact that they were able to provide a platform for their team to re-write the wrongs of the past. Because of their solid effort with the bat yet again in the fifth and final match of the series in Chennai, the triple centurion Karun Nair thanked Jadeja and Ashwin after reaching the pinnacle, for understanding the situation on the crease and playing accordingly. India will hope the tailenders can reproduce similar performances the next time they go overseas for a series.