Tailenders stand tall in India`s rising Test stature
Bridgetown: Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni could not stop praising his lower-order batsmen after going up 1-0 in the Test series against the West Indies and the appreciation is well-deserved given that the team`s tailenders have shown steely resolve in recent times.
Since the Hamilton Test against New Zealand in March 2009, India has stacked up an admirable Test record of 12 wins, seven draws and three losses from the 22 Tests it has played.
But that`s true only in Tests and substantially different in one-day internationals.
India`s lower-half has consistently failed in one-dayers and one doesn`t have to go beyond the present year to understand the phenomenon.
The triumphant World Cup campaign couldn`t hide the fact that India lost its final six wickets against England for 33 runs; its` eight wickets for 29 runs against South Africa and final 5 for 36 runs against the West Indies.
Even on the present tour, India lost its final two one-day internationals by staggering margins of 103 runs and seven wickets as its lower half failed to come to the party.
One common ingredient between these two extremely divergent performances of Tests and one-dayers is the presence or absence of mercurial off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.
Harbhajan Singh made 41 runs in the third one-day international on the present tour to Caribbean and helped India take unassailable 3-0 lead.
But when he went missing in the final two one-day internationals, India lost by the staggering margins of 103 runs and seven wickets.
In the three Test matches India lost in the last two years, Harbhajan Singh didn`t quite pull his weight or inspire the tail to eke out important runs.
Against South Africa during the 2010 Nagpur Test, India`s last five wickets went for 12 runs.
Against Sri Lanka at Galle, India`s final five wickets went for 24 runs and at Centurion last winter, India lost its` final four wickets for 26 and 10 runs in the two innings.
However, the success of India`s lower-half in Tests has stayed in mind because it`s been so unexpected.
India`s two substantial stands of 146 and 56 runs for the seventh and ninth wicket in the two innings at the Sabina Park pitch were the cornerstone around which the 63-run Test win was scripted.
A few extraordinary Test wins of the last two years indeed owe a generous gratitude to the resolve of india`s tailenders.
In Kingsmead, India saw their first innings lead of 74 runs against South Africa quickly lose its value as it slipped to 148 for 7 in their second knock.
VVS Laxman (96) then found an ably ally in Zaheer Khan (27) and their 70-run eighth wicket stand won visitors the game by 87 runs.
Against Australia in Mohali last year, India were set a target of 216 runs in the fourth innings.
It looked a lost cause as India slipped to 124 for 8 before the chestnuts were pulled out of fire by VVS Laxman (73 not out) and Ishant Sharma (31) through their 81-run ninth wicket stand.
Even Pragyan Ojha`s five runs were worth in hundreds as India successfully made the uphill climb.
VVS Laxman was again at the forefront in helping India beat Sri Lanka at P Sara Oval in Colombo last year but it was Abhimanyu Mithun (46) and Amit Mishra (40) who helped India take the first innings honours.
The Tests in which India staved off defeats with help from its bottom half are as significant as the matches in which victory was made possible by their rearguard stands.
South Africa made a strong push to tilt the 1-1 scoreline in their favour in the final Test at Newlands last winter. Batting first they made 362 and looked headed for a good lead when Harbhajan Singh (40) and Zaheer Khan (23) stood firm to quell their charge.
Against New Zealand at Ahmedabad last year, India saw its marginal lead of 29 runs mean nothing as they slipped to 15 for 5 in the second knock.
Harbhajan came good with 115 runs, to go with his 69 in the first innings, and a possible defeat was averted.
Against New Zealand in 2009, India`s 1-0 lead looked tenuous when it subsided to 204 for 6 in the final game at Wellington.
Harbhajan (60), Zaheer Khan (33), Ishant Sharma (18) and Munaf Patel (15) bailed them out and India had secured their first series win in New Zealand after 41 years.
So Dhoni`s one assertion brings two questions back at him - why the tail has to bail a team out which regularly plays seven batsmen? And why not play five bowlers if your tail always comes to your rescue?
Indeed, Harbhajan Singh can now be termed an allrounder as he has made 483 runs from the last seven Test matches with two centuries and two half-centuries.
He now has in excess of 2000 Test runs. This little adjustment in outlook can make India play the fifth bowler - and possibly win many more Tests.