Sunday, November 14, 2010

Has the last wicket become achilles heel?

In cricket, a captain or the back-room staff would primarily think about plotting the downfall of batsmen in the opposition line-up,  but in modern times, it seems like lower-order batsmen are becoming a hazard for bowlers and the captain. A few may point to the fact that nowadays coaches insist that lower-order batsmen should contribute with the bat and as a result, look at ways to improve their batting, bats have become better, bowlers aren't of the same class, or the pitches have become flat yet, is it so difficult to get the last wicket?

Today, I have to give the credit to Harbhajan for his stunning counter attack on the plucky Kiwi bowlers, but at the same-time, I couldn't fathom some of the tactics that Vettori employed. Yes, when the last man Sreesanth joined Harbhajan at crease, Harby played a few stunning shots of Vettori, but I was dumbfounded by how soon the Kiwi captain panicked and fielders went scurrying to the boundary.

To be frank, I realise that it is easy to say a captain is too defensive by sitting on a chair in front of a laptop, but  some of the tactics that modern day captains employ is unfathomable. Cricket is sometimes known as a game of chess and that can be true as the captain on the field has to anticipate what a batsman would do next. Today, I felt that Vettori didn't use what is known as the brain. In-fact, it seemed like his brain became dead for the last hour of the day's play.


If I look at the way the last pair played, I wouldn't have pushed the long-off back to Vettori as it could have tempted Harbie to play against the spin. Another reason why I wouldn't have pushed the long-off back is, I want the last man to play a rash shot and get out.  As Harby was playing some audacious shots it made Sreesanth to play defensively, but a captain should look to tempt  the last man to play a slog or two. If they had kept an attacking field for Harby, maybe Sreesanth would have played a rash shot or two. As soon as the captain sets a defensive field with just one wicket to fall, the better batsman would look to just take the odd risk and the last man would look to defend everything and a wicket won't fall. The Kiwi bowlers could have tried a few more short deliveries and the odd yorker to dismiss Sreesanth. I would also have a silly point for Harby as I would like to get under the skin of Harby and force him to play an audacious shot which is beyond even his range of stroke-play. Unfortunately, there isn't anyone like Mark Taylor around and such tactics would never be tried.

Sydney fiasco and the blunder at Oval

It isn't the first time either when captains have got defensive with the team needing just a few wickets to wrap up the innings. Recently at Sydney, Hussey scored a century with the tailenders supporting him. Hussey did play a fine knock under pressure, but the opposition captain Yousuf seemed to be intent on gifting him a birthday present. Yousuf spread the field and as expected, Huss started taking easy singles and in between was hitting the odd boundary. The tailenders at the other end, just defended everything. It happened at Oval too, when Azhar Ali added crucial runs with the last man. In the end, Pakistan won a close match, but if Strauss was a bit more attacking, it could have been a different story altogether as both Ali and the last man Asif added crucial 30-40 runs. The virus of setting defensive fields didn't end there as in the last test at Lord's, Strauss set defensive fields for Umar Akmal, though England were million runs ahead and just needed one wicket for victory! Why would anyone do that especially with Umar Akmal being known for playing reckless shots? Any captain should tempt Umar to play more reckless shots and what makes it more interesting is the fact  that England were coasting to an easy victory.

Finally, I do agree that Harbhajan played a stunning knock. His timing was impeccable, he played late and played some audacious shots, but Vettori seemed to be treating him as  the re-incarnation of Gilbret Jessop.


knowledge_eater said...

Because they freak out, not only last wicket, but tail has become so large in last few years. Also, captains tend to loose their mojo or become brainless or very thoughtless when someone go bizarre. Thats the beauty of it.

One side Clock is ticking one side score is building up. Captains quickly want to get that wicket. And frustration quickly triples exponentially. For last few years last 2-3 tails wickets are becoming like ODI's last 7-8 overs when batsman go all in, and frustration of bowlers begin.

Remember Malinga recently and Mendis. If I look up example its increasing. Sometimes, its not pitches' fault or bowlers fault. But as you said Captains psyche go crazy whenever Tail starting show their Teeth. Harbie has done this many times in ODI and he has started to do this in Test, he even did it with Kumble sometimes quite often.

But one thing always have baffled me.

WHERE On earth are those UNPLAYABLE pacy YORKERS ?

greyblazer said...

Now everyone knows that if just one wicket is left and a decent batsman is still batting, the captain would invariably set defensive fields for the better batsman and attacking fields for the tailender. What it has made is, the tailender would just look to defend everything and won't play the wild slog. Oh! I miss Walsh playing those slogs!

Yorkers? It may soon become extinct as it seems like every bowler wants to bowl the cutters and slower bouncers.

Masuud said...

Nice one this. Surely, recently there have been some amazing last wicket stands. Agree with your strategy points and knowledge_eater point of captains freaking out.
Also I think its more to do with tailenders taking batting really seriously since the last decade. Averages of most tailenders (no 10 & 11) are now 10+; gone are the days when they used to average 5-6 (Obviously, the likes of Mcgrath & Chris Martin will always remain exceptions).

p.s. If you had added the recent ODI ones; SL one (Malinga etc) and Pak-NZ Champions Trophy one (Amir-Ajmal), it would've made some list.

Anonymous said...

Aaaah, that last wicket ... oh god, visions of Cardiff 2009 are coming back.


greyblazer said...


Yes tailenders have improved but the captains have become robots who follow the same plan.

greyblazer said...


How could I have forgotten that? No I didn't include it deliberately so that you won't cry lol.

Mykuhl said...

As a New Zealander, I have been witness to some of the most humiliating final wicket stands against my team. That would rate as the second worst (behind the Gillespie-McGrath fiasco).

One thing that leads to it though is the type of bowling attack that New Zealand have. The hallmark of New Zealand's bowling is subtlety. There are no fast bowlers, and no big spinners in the team.

Most of the fast-medium bowlers rely on making sure the ball is in a slightly different place at a slightly different time than the batsman expects. This leads to good batsmen mistiming their shots, or edging them. This subtlety however does not work against bad batsmen. They are used to not knowing exactly where the ball is going to be, and have developed techniques to deal with that.

Likewise Vettori gets batsmen out by making the ball arrive a little before or after they are expecting it to, not by turning it past the bat.

This subtlety is extremely effective against good batsmen who are trying to attack. It is not so good against batsmen that are just trying to defend.

I think that you are right, the captaincy is a big issue here. Set fields that encourage tail-enders to attack, and then the bowlers have a chance to clean up the tail.

Vettori is generally turning into a good captain. But I feel than he needs to start captaining more like he bats (unorthodox, aggressive) than like he bowls (orthodox, defensive).

greyblazer said...


Welcome to the blog!! Yeah NZ don't have fast bowlers but even medium pacers can try a yorker or two like Bravo has just done it against Lanka.It is better to try a yorker than those slower bouncers or cutters. Against Sree, Vettori for some reason didn't bowl that arm ball as well as he usually does.

Vettori can get defensive when NZ seems to have a good chance of winning the match! Do you remember the final test against Pakistan when inspite of Pak. being million runs behind Vettori didn't have enough fielders in attacking position and NZ couldn't win.

Mykuhl said...

yes, I remember it too well. I often wonder if Vettori wants to be remembered for fighting draws, than for winning test matches.

In the last 5 years New Zealand took a wicket every 55 balls under Fleming, and every 71 balls under Vettori. This is the difference between winning games and drawing them.

greyblazer said...

Yeah I think Vettori seems to be intent on drawing the matches.Any captain should look to win first and if that isn't possible look for a draw.

Now I see that Kiwis have lost 5 wickets but if they had played for a win maybe they could have been 1-0 up in the series.

Yes Harby played very well but I have seen so many times even tricks like tempting the aggressive batsman to play against the spin with say long off up working but Vettori spread the field too soon.