The inning of Ben Stokes: The art of batting with the tail

Ben Stokes once again came to the party merely a month after his feat at the WC Final. Once again he never gave up and continued to battle with the tailenders. With last wicket to go, he broke loose and scored 75 of the required 76 runs including 8 sixes.

However, this was not the first time that someone batted so well with the tail. Just a few months ago, Kusal Perera of Sri Lanka played a similar inning against South Africa in South Africa making it even more special as Stokes made the runs in his home England (though he is from NZ). ESPNcricinfo ran a poll of best such innings and not surprisingly, Perera tops the list. in a piece on Mint analyses what it means to bat will the tail.

There was history on one side, and Ben Stokes and Jack Leach on the other. History said the average tenth-wicket partnership for England in test cricket was an anaemic 14 runs. History said of the 123 times that England was dismissed while chasing a target, on 77 of those occasions, the last-wicket pair had failed to even reach 10 runs. Stokes and Leach wrote their own history, adding an undefeated 76 runs in last week’s humdinger in Headingley.

In a summer that has belonged to him like no other cricketer, Stokes also burnished his credentials of batting with the tail. Coming in usually at the fall of the third or fourth wicket, Stokes’ approach was to take his time and take matches deep. Stokes, 28, is still early in his career, and he will have many outings batting with the bowlers: wickets 7 to 10. It’s an art that few among the top order have mastered.

Ironically, two of the foremost exponents of batting with the tail were from the side that Stokes was putting in the shade that afternoon in Headingley: Australia. In the history of the game, no top-order batsman (coming in at number 6 or before) has scored as many runs with the tail (batsmen coming in at 7 to 10) as Steve Waugh.

The doughty Waugh, who batted at three or four down for much of his Test career, added 4,102 runs for wickets 7 to 10. Close behind him is another prolific, but low-profile, batsman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies. He is followed by Allan Border, who is the only one in the list of top 10 batsmen batting with the tail who stopped playing test cricket before the turn of this century.

There are three Indians in that list, led by VVS Laxman. The other two are Sachin Tendulkar and Ravi Shastri, whose presence here reflects a distinct characteristic about their batting craft and the circumstances surrounding it. For Shastri, it reflected his ability to put a great price to his wicket.

For Tendulkar, who batted at number four for nearly his entire career, that characteristic is last man standing. As many as 85% of Tendulkar’s innings and 92% of runs with the tail came outside India, which is also the highest percentage in away runs among this list of 10. While part of this showcases his colossal appetite for runs, part of this also reflects India’s frailties overseas in the top half of Tendulkar’s career: in 23 of the 62 away innings where Tendulkar batted with the tail, he started doing so before India had crossed 200 runs.

Availability of data has made cricket so interesting.

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