Sometimes you bat for your team-mates. Let’s imagine there’s only one threatening bowler in the opposition attack. If you can put some mileage into his legs, you make it easier for the batsmen who follow you. To some extent, it doesn’t really matter how many runs you score. You are making an investment on behalf of the team.
When Graeme Swann dismissed Yuvraj Singh in India’s first innings, he had 4-78, but he was starting to flag and he eventually finished with 5-144. The lower order had faced a different bowler.
India’s batsmen didn’t really get after Swann. Instead, they played in the knowledge that even spinners tire. Gambhir extracted 44 deliveries from the off-spinner, making just 14 runs in that time; Pujara scored 62 off 133; Kohli scored 7 off 30; and Yuvraj scored 25 off 49.
Those are dull statistics, but if you can commit the opposition’s best bowler to 51 overs of toil, you aren’t just surviving him, you are eroding him as well.
In England’s first innings, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell made no such investment. The latter didn’t even take a sighter. The former will doubtless argue: “That’s just the way I play” and to that, we can only reply: “What, badly?”
Bowling workload doesn’t make the highlights reel, but it matters. How much was Cook and Compton’s decent second innings opening stand the result of the incremental loss of zip from India’s spinners? Ashwin and Ojha bowled 49 of the 71 overs in England’s first innings, but they could have been asked to do more work.
If those two bowlers recover their vim and venom overnight, England’s openers will try and do their job. Bell and Pietersen will benefit should they be successful. Maybe next time they could return the favour.