The Sunday Soapbox

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.


Ayelet Lushkov


  • Sadly the insecurities of ‘I only bat at three’, are all pervasive, tho’ your idylls are very persuasive – great points I agree…up to a point, only :)

  • No captain, in his/her right mind would consider as a tactic on a regular basis. Could England, on a needs must basis in a 2nd innings, open with say Ali and Stokes, or Buttler and Stokes…….possibly. Or Australia with M. Marsh and Haddin or Johnston and Watson, possibly, with Clarke as captain – Smith might once he gets comfortable in his role. McCullam perhaps. Gilchrist did open in the ODI’s, but he was a freak.

    I would definitely like to see it though. See you blinks first.

  • I think its often just a problem of having the six best batsmen in the country matching up to the six batting positions. Then you have to shuffle then around a bit, or alternatively leave someone else out because there is no space for him in his desired space.

    The issue of the early breakthrough and then facing the tiring attack is interesting. Most sides today seem to have bowlers who can bowl with a bit of speed, seam and swing when the ball is new but have attacks that seem to lack wicket taking ability when the ball is old and the bowlers tired. So often you seen middle orders making runs these days, that I’m starting to think the real key to having a good side is a couple of good opening batsmen, as well as some bowlers who can take wickets with an old ball.

  • Its an old idea. Look at this test:

    Australia batted first and reached 181/6 at close of play. It then rained heavily overnight and the pitch became unplayable. Australia lost 3 quick wickets before Bradman declared early to get England in.

    England were then bowled out for 76. Bradman reversed his batting order in the 2nd innings to wait for the pitch to dry.

    He then came in at 7 and scored 270, leaving England needed almost 700 to win.

  • Generally the fact that you don’t want your best batsmen to run out of partners (and they will more often with the tail ahead of them) and the psychological factor of having lost wickets outweighs the fact that there is a shortish period of the new ball being more dangerous. In the days of sticky wickets as has been pointed out the tactic was used when you had a good expectation of the pitch getting better later on when it dried out. That said some tail enders have great defense even if they don’t have many attacking shots so I have often wondered if 1 of them should be plonked in to take the new ball.

    Still I think there is plenty of cricket traditions that should be broken. There is statistical evidence to suggest teams do worse with a night watchman than without the thinking here it is that it reduces the partnerships available for the batsmen. There is also evidence that enforcing the follow on is generally a bad idea simply because your bowlers may end up too tired without the innings break. eg Eden Gardens 2000/01

  • SimonH has already referred to the 3rd Test of England’s 1936/7 tour of Australia.

    Something similar happened during England’s 1935 tour of the West Indies. Heavy overnight rain after days one and two left the wicket virtually unplayable. The Windies, hoping to give the wicket time to dry, started their second innings with the tail, sending in Hylton (8), Grant (7), Martindale (11), Archong (10) and Christiani (9) ahead of Roach (1) and Headley (3).

    It didn’t work out so well with Grant, Martindale and Archong all perishing for no score. GC Grant, the Windies skipper, declared on 51 for 6 forcing England to endure the same pitch conditions. England adopted a similar tactic, with similar results, before Hammond, coming in at 6, saw the tourists home with an unbeaten 29.

    The Wisden match report can be read here –

  • I just love the idea that a team should switch on brain and use some imagination.

  • Ayelet,

    I believe I have found the nub of your conundrum and I’m afraid to say it has nothing to do with batting orders.

    It is contained within your first sentence…you are an England fan.

    Shame really :-)


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