Lower order batsmen can be more than an annoyance. They can cost you matches if you can't bowl them out.
It should be easy. These are the guys with the worst batting skill and the lowest average. Yet strangely some very good bowlers to top end players just don't have the knack of firing out the tail. They repeatedly beat the bat and look like doing it any moment, but somehow the wickets don't materialise as quickly as they should.
Bowling to the tail is a skill
For me a key element is the way the lower order play. Each batter is different of course, but the tail rarely bat properly for any length of time.
You can essentially split most into two groups:
- Blockers. Those with a good defence but little or no shots.
- Hitters. Generally swiping the ball over deep midwicket .
There is a third group who are probably not genuine tail-enders but worth mentioning; the nudgers. These are the players with a decent eye who can play the ball into unusual places, such as stepping back and hitting over the slips.
The common element is that all these three types are not playing orthodox attacking batting strokes. You may get the odd one, but generally the way they play is different.
That means you have to bowl differently too.
For me, this is the key to why some bowlers are better at getting tail-enders than others.
How to fire out the tail
Generally there is one magic way to get tail end batsmen out.
Bowl at the stumps.
This may not seem to be a revelation, but sometimes with all the planning and working out of proper batsmen's weaknesses we forget a simple truth: If they miss, you hit.
Most batsmen in the bottom 3 will be unable to withstand a bowler who is bowling at the stumps 6 balls per over. So the default plan should always be to bowl a line and length that ideally hits the top of the off stump (although middle and even leg stump should be fine too, just hit them).
In most cases this is all the advice you need. However, sometimes the plan will fail. For example, the big swinging number 11 may come off and hit you for a few boundaries. What happens then?
It's important to be flexible in your plan but to keep applying common sense. So in our big hitting example, I would still encourage the bowler to aim at the stumps, but perhaps with a very full length to stop him getting under the ball.
You could also block off his big shot with deep fielders and leave a gap through square cover to get him playing in an unusual area. This tactic of leaving a gap in the field also works for the blockers. Even the most stonewall of defenders would find it difficult to resist a half volley from an off spinner with an open off side field. The more shots they play, the more likely they are to make a mistake.
Putting on the pressure
The final tool at your disposal against the tail is mental pressure. If the lower order are in, there is a good chance that the game is either in the balance or they need to save it by blocking out. Either way, they will be feeling that pressure as they come to the crease.
You can add to this pressure in subtle ways. Placing fielders close in, especially short square leg and silly mid off, puts an awareness of fielders in a batsman's mind. The batsman may get nervous and push too hard at one, or they may try and hit the field back with some lusty blows. Either way, you are on top.
It also helps to have a wicketkeeper who can keep the chat up. A few well chosen comments to your team mates about technical weaknesses of a player don't even need to be directed at the batsman but just enough to be in earshot. Anything that puts a seed of doubt in the mind of the player should be enough. Just avoid sledging; there is no place for going that far in my mind.
Whatever your plan, make sure you keep it simple and aim at the stumps as much as possible. This will give you the highest chance of success against the tail.
image credit: www.a-middletonphotograph y.com