Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The tail wags

Australia have just shown yet again why they are such a formidable test side, after completely reversing their situation on Day 4 in Bridgetown. The West Indies were in control at one stage, with Australia 7 wickets down and behind by 199. However the tail of Harris, Hilfenhaus and Lyon combined to drag the Aussies back into the match. When the 7th wicket went down, Australia were on 250. 156 runs and two wickets later they were in a strong enough position to declare. What happened?

The answer is the grit shown by the bowlers, who cannot be expected to survive and score runs but did anyway. Australia has a bit of a knack for doing this, and many explanations for why revolve around the Australian reputation for being fighters. In this current test, all of their bowlers average over 10. The value of these runs is hard to overstate. While they are not the most significant contributions to the scoreboard, their contribution to team morale (and the sapping of the opposition's morale) is unquestionable. For a bowler it must be agonising to get through the middle order of Ponting, Clarke and Hussey, be in a position to secure a huge lead and then have it slip away thanks to bowlers scoring annoying runs. We can't know for certain of course, but I would be willing to bet that the West Indies collapse in their second innings had a lot to do with the bowlers being confident after making runs, and the batsmen being dispirited after being kept in the field for an extra 45 overs.

A team with a reputation for lower order runs is very hard to put away. New Zealand no longer enjoys this reputation. When Vettori used to bat at 8 there was always the strong possibility of an extra 100 runs being made in the last 4 partnerships, now that we have the likes of Southee and Bracewell propping up the lower order there is no such fear. Southee can smash the ball a long way, but he is yet to play a single mature innings. Bracewell can stick around for a while, but struggles to keep the score ticking over. They are each a negative stereotype of tail end batting, the slogger and the prodder. With regular lower order contributions, perhaps New Zealand would start to win tests more often.

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