All they do is stand in the outfield looking pretty then when it comes to the crunch they get out leaving it up to the tail to win or save the close games.
Where is the justice?
There's none. If you bat in the tail you just have to suck it up and consider yourself an all rounder. Even number 11 has a job to do in the batting order: At best it's to swipe a single off the last ball, at worst it's to bat out for the draw in an epic last wicket stand.
Let's take a look at some common tail end batting situations and see what skills you need to work on (when the batsman have finished of course).
1. Attack, attack, attack: Winning the game (or hitting out for a declaration)
This situation is generally known as 'the fun part'. You are not racked with the same mental pain as a top order batsman but you still have a job to do: Score runs quickly.
You don't need every shot in the book to pull this off. However, you need at least one decent shot you can rely on to get you runs. Whether it's a stylish cover drive or aiming everything at cow corner is purely a matter of personal choice.
In fact, an unorthodox style can work to your advantage as you regularly put the ball in unexpected places.
Either way, you still need to consider your innings. It's not always a slog. You probably won't have time to build an innings properly, but you may still have some time to play yourself in. That means practicing your batting in different game situations as much as you can. It teaches you the psychology of building a late innings.
Even if you are hitting out the basics of batting still apply: watch the ball, keep your head still, select the right shot and lead with your shoulder/hands.
The main thing is to enjoy it, you are probably not expected to win the match so you have little to lose in going for it.
2. Holding up an end: Staying with an established batsman
This situation is more common in longer 4 innings games, but still can happen in other formats. Your job here is to spend as much time as possible at the non strikers end watching the well set player get some runs.
That usually means scampering quick singles at the start of an over and being ready to do the same towards the end. Anything off the pads is usually an easy single if you are desperate. It helps to work on placing the ball into the gaps in practice.
Being able to leave the ball is also an important skill. Many tail enders leave partners stranded because they are not a good judge of what to hit and what to leave. There is usually no need to play at balls outside off stump as it increases your chances of getting out. The exception would be if you are trying to score rapidly as we discussed above.
3. Bored to death: Saving a game
In matches that can end in a draw you need intense concentration to be able to bat it out.
Imagine the situation. You are in with twelve overs to go and there are a couple of spinners on: One chucking it up in the air, one flatter and quicker. There is bound to be a moment at some point in those 72 balls where your eyes light up and you feel a certain boundary coming.
But your judgement of the ball needs to be perfect. Are you really that good a batsman?
If we are talking about a rank ball to your strongest shot with little risk then the answer is probably yes. However long hops still require you to play cross bat shots, wide half volleys can get you playing away from your body and that fielder who seems to have wandered out of position might just be the one put there by the opposition skipper after seeing that you hit it in the air there.
The biggest compliment you can get in these situations is the opposition sledging you for being boring or 'playing for his average'. In actuality you are doing the opposite: cutting out shots for the good of the team.
Lower order skills
In summary then, what does a tail ender need to be able to do to be effective in the lower order?
- Have a sound defensive technique built on the basics of a still head, your eye on the ball and judgement which shot to play (even if that shot is a leave).
- Have at least one banker shot that can get you out of trouble and bring you boundaries.
- Be able to read the game situation and talk to your partner.
- Be confident in your ability to play the ball into gaps and sprint quick singles (Even after a long spell in the field).
- Have the concentration to be able to play out a number of overs scoring at a very slow rate without getting tempted.
This is most of what a top order batsman has to be able to do (albeit in a slightly different way and with less time). That means nobody in the team should shirk batting practice, especially using simulated matches to give you experience in these situations.
Even if you don't enjoy batting, you owe it to your team's success to do the minimum required. It will win and save you more games than you think.
Image credit: cupra