In what could be, but knowing us probably won’t, become a regular Sunday slot on TFT, we will be giving readers the opportunity to pitch original, unoriginal, or just plain daft ideas to the cricketing public. The first of these comes from Ayelet Lushkov, who possesses by far the most insightful cricketing mind at the University of Texas. So take her ideas seriously folks.
Her article is entitled ‘The Batting Order and the Psychology of an Innings’. It’s best digested after consuming copious lashing of illicit narcotics. Take it away Ayelet …
Like many England fans, I have recently been applying the remnants of my cognitive apparatus to the vexed problem of England’s batting order.
This is a problem that has plagued England, the fans, and the media for a while now. See, the trouble with the batting order is that even when you’ve got the right people in more or less the right places, the whole still has to be greater than the sum of its parts. Opening partnerships prosper to no avail if the middle order collapses, and rebuilding can founder on an uncooperative tail.
Batting order isn’t hugely complicated. The principle is fairly simple: horses for courses. The openers should negotiate the new ball and build a platform. The middle order shores up the edifice and kicks on to make a big score, while the tail-enders try to make themselves useful. In consequence you want your grafty accumulators in first, your willow-swingers in later, and the tall lanky people where they can’t really hurt themselves.
This is accepted wisdom, and by and large England have stuck to it, even to their own detriment. In the recent Lord’s test, in fact, it worked a treat, with Cook rustling up a daddy hundred while the young bucks, Ben Stokes at their head, opened their shoulders to exciting effect.
But like all conventional wisdom, the batting order obviously begs for some simple deconstruction, not least since the shorter formats have demonstrated the wisdom of fronting the middle order and the dangers of safety first. And in the joyous spirit of early summer, let me propose, with tongue only partly in cheek, the following: turn it upside down.
Seriously. Just think about for a minute. When do most of the wickets fall? When the opening bowlers have the new ball, and – and this is the crucial bit – when the tail-enders are in. At least, when England’s tail-enders are in. Antipodean tail-enders are a different matter.
But in any event, having two passages of increased risk seems like a structural inefficiency. Therefore, consolidate. Send out the tail-enders when the ball is new and hooping, and let them have a swing. Think of them as daywatchmen. Let them have a slog, take the shine off the ball, confuse the opposition, and then, once you have 20 runs on the board, let them put their feet up and rest before coming in to bowl.
So now, when we’re 30-4, which is a pretty familiar place for England to be, the lost wickets are not the precious ones of the openers, the number 3 scalp, the number 4 attempt at consolidation. No, they’re tail-end wickets. A useful little partnership, a glove to the keeper, a slog to third man.
And then, we turn our lonely eyes not to Joe Root to carry the innings, but rather to a full complement of recognized batsmen. The ball is aging, the opening bowlers tiring, and the change bowlers are coming on. The batsman’s advantage is automatically that much the greater. Greater still, indeed, if, to face this tiring attack comes a fresh Alastair Cook at 5, with Adam Lyth at 6. When the new ball comes at last, it’ll be faced either by them, if they last long enough, or by other recognized batsman who would normally be batting further up the order.
Psychology is key in constructing an innings. Falling wickets swing the momentum from one side to another. So imagine the exultant opposition, bouncing out England’s four first wickets. Feel their joy. And then feel it wilt and sour slowly in the heat, as the grafters come out. As the memory of early wickets recedes, and as the breakthrough dwindles in the face of an entire line-up of proper batsmen. Batsmen who know how to treat a ball, who have the skill to score, who have not had to scramble against the new ball, and who will never again be stranded by a tail-ender slogging for glory.