Australia put themselves in the driver’s seat in the Ashes 2019 series after notching up close to 500 in the first innings of the fourth Test. The story of the Aussie innings bore a similar pattern, with the openers failing to get going before Steven Smith recorded a potentially match-winning knock amid a cacophony of boos and cheers from the English crowd that is slowly re-acknowledging the genius of Smith after they geared up to chastise him for the sandpaper saga.
Another often ignored aspect of the Aussie batting that came to the fore at Manchester was the vital contributions of the lower order. When number 7 batter Tim Paine was dismissed, the score read 369 for 6, and a total of around 400 would have been more than enough to put pressure on the Joe Root-led team. However, as has been the norm this series, and over the last few months, the Aussie tail-enders batted with maturity, scoring at a brisk pace as well, to help push the Australian score near 500.
In all, numbers 8 to 11 scored 84 runs at Manchester and a look at their contributions in this Ashes will reveal how important the runs they have scored have been. They added 61 and 73 at Birmingham, 1 and 38 at Lord’s, 39 and 4 at Leeds and another 84 at Manchester, to help push the total further away from the hosts each time.
The lower-order from Australia average 17.36 in the last twelve months – the highest among all Test playing nations, with England close behind at 17.09.
From August 2015 to August 2017, however, the Australian tail failed to wag, and were ranked eighth out of ten when it came to runs scored from batsmen 8-11. In this two-year period, they scored only 1070 runs in 22 Tests, averaging just 13.71, with only Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon scoring more than 200 runs. Starc was the lone standout batsman in this duration, with 478 runs at an average of just below 23. What helped Starc was his ability to attack the opposition bowlers, as he hit 42 fours and 23 sixes in this duration. The next best number of sixes hit by numbers 8 to 11 from Australia in this period was 4 – by Peter Siddle.
So, what has changed? Fearlessness along with a more attacking approach – the Aussies have scored 78 fours and 11 sixes in 12 Tests in the last one year – has allowed the lower order to put their rivals under pressure consistently. Three Aussies feature in the list of most runs scored from positions 8-11 in the last twelve months – Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon – to cumulatively average 21.21. This year, the Aussie lower order averages close to 23 overall in Tests, with the average shooting up to 26.83 in wins or draws.
The impact, then, of the tail has played a huge part in Australia’s domination in the recent past, and has certainly added to England’s woes in the ongoing Ashes. If the visitors do retain the urn, the bowlers from Down Under would surely have played their part – with both ball and bat.