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Hurting,now Down Under

India’s bowlers are guilty of letting lower-order batsmen off the hook

Written by Karthikkrishnaswamy | Sydney | Published: January 1, 2012 2:38:39 am

If James Pattinson is of superstitious disposition,he may have experienced mixed feelings when the clock struck twelve last night. The beginning of his Test career might have occupied only a small part of 2011,but it was so spectacular that he might not have wanted the year to end. “New Year?” he might have thought to himself as the fireworks lit up the night sky. “I think I’ll stick to the old one.”

When he won Man of the Match at the MCG,his second in only his third Test match,Pattinson did so not only for his six wickets and general air of hostility but also for his batting,which fetched him 55 runs across two not out innings.

The papers since have been full of articles hyping up the 21-year-old Victorian,proclaiming him a potential all-rounder for the future.

There’s certainly a lot to like about Pattinson’s batting. There’s a sense of upright calm about the way he gets behind the line to defend,and a pleasing look about the way he leans into his cover drive. In a way,he seems to fit snugly in that recent line of left-handed lower-order batsmen,who have all had all-rounder credentials thrust upon them — Irfan Pathan,Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Broad.

When they first came in,Irfan,Johnson and Broad were marked out by a similar set of attributes. All of them possessed a good eye and uncomplicated technique,struck the ball cleanly and drove well on the up through the off side. But at some stage in all their careers,for one reason or another,their bowling dipped – Irfan lost his pace,Johnson lost his action,Broad lost his length. Of the three,only Broad has fully recovered his primary skill.

It’s a stretch to say that their bowling suffered as a consequence of the focus they began devoting to their batting. Johnson and Broad weren’t really put under as much pressure as Pathan to develop into fully-fledged all-rounders. They weren’t shunted around the order in ODIs or made to open in the odd Test match.

They were instead allowed to grow into the number eight role and simply extend the batting order rather than fulfill the traditional all-rounder’s role of helping the team fit in an extra bowler. This is most likely how the Australian team management will use Pattinson too,for this is the new cricketing wisdom.

In a previous era,a team blessed with Broad,Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann would have used one of them at number seven and played an extra bowler. The current England set-up,however,are happy to have them bat eight,nine and ten. The result is a scarily long batting order. Of the seven bowlers to have made more than one 50-plus score in the last three years batting number eight or below,three are Englishmen – Broad,Bresnan and Swann (the others are Johnson,Harbhajan Singh,Daniel Vettori and Mahmudullah).

With Peter Siddle developing into a lower-order barnacle as well,the Australians may well be on the road to developing a lower order in England’s mould. This is scary news for India.

Poor record

In the last three years,India have had a terrible record against lower order pairs (seventh wicket onwards),allowing them to score an average of 25.50 runs per partnership. It’s the highest of any Test team,worse by far than teams like Sri Lanka (20.54),England (20.04) and Australia (17.93). In those three years,India’s bowlers have let lower-order pairs put on 50 partnerships 17 times and century stands eight times.

England exploited this failing repeatedly a few months ago. Last January,South Africa denied India a win at Cape Town with their last four pairs putting on 211 after they had been 130 for six. Before that,coming together at 125 for eight,Thilan Samaraweera put on 118 with Ajantha Mendis for the ninth wicket at the P Sara Oval to set India a challenging 257 to win – it took a fourth-innings Laxman special to take them over the line.

At the MCG,lower-order partnerships may well have won Australia scoring 211 over the two innings,nearly 37 per cent of their runs and nearly 47 per cent of what all of India’s batsmen managed. For India to wrest back the momentum,the dawn of the New Year must somehow erase their woes against the tail.

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