At the start of the tournament, we highlighted a weakness of South Africa’s – the fact that their batting order “quite quickly becomes a little bit Farhaan Behardien”. This weekend, it just as quickly became a little bit Wayne Parnell. That’s a long tail.
South Africa’s best batsmen are so good it rather distracts from the fact that their batting as a whole isn’t quite so all-conquering. If you can find a way to dispatch Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, they’re a surprisingly vulnerable side. But how exactly do you get rid of those pair? Well, in de Villiers’ own words: “You feel the pressure chasing 300 plus so you take on shots that you might not normally take on and you go for second runs you might not normally go for.”
It’s what was once known as ‘scoreboard pressure’ before that phrase came to mean little more than ‘a big score’. The two aren’t the same. Sometimes chasing 300 is easy. Sometimes chasing 250 is hard. You only really feel the pressure when you’re chasing a score that is – and we hate ourself for saying this – above par.
Chasing 300 is also a great deal easier when your best batsmen are in during the final 10 overs. This period of the game appears to have become disproportionately influential in one-day cricket since the introduction of two new balls and the changes to fielding restrictions with teams routinely scoring at 10, 12, even 15 an over.
Against Zimbabwe, South Africa made 28 in the first 10 overs of the match and 146 in the last 10. That puts a lot of emphasis on what commentators call ‘the back end of the innings’ (and which we will therefore refer to as being ‘the arse of the innings’).
In that instance, it was David Miller and JP Duminy, numbers five and number six, doing the damage. However, it wouldn’t have worked out quite the same if they’d entered that period with Wayne Parnell at the crease (Farhaan Behardien was actually number seven in that game, but you get what we’re saying). You could even argue that just one extra wicket in the first 40 overs of the game could have cost almost 100 runs.
One of the odd things about the arse of the innings being so significant is that it is leading a lot of teams to pick five specialist bowlers, rather than relying on part-timers. This means that it’s often the number seven and number eight batsmen who are making way for out-and-out bowlers – in short, the very people who are highly likely to find themselves at the crease in the final 10 overs. This exaggerates things further.
India find themselves in a slightly odd position in that they have two strong lower order batsmen in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin who are both spinners. If they can keep them in the team, the batsmen have a nice safety blanket. But without them, you could excuse a few jitters and it’s possible the top order might play more conservatively to ensure the right men are around for the arse of the innings.
Australia, bizarrely, have gone the opposite way to a lot of teams and picked great swathes of batsmen-who-bowl and bowlers-who-bat. Sometimes it’s just good fortune that their best bowlers are also decent batsmen (Mitchells Johnson and Starc) and that their best batsmen also bowl (Steve Smith) but they’ve also been keen to play all-rounders like James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh. The upshot is that while their top order isn’t quite so spectacular, it never really ends, so there’ll always be someone to exploit the arse (of the innings).
England’s latest match, against Scotland, was also an arse tale (as opposed to an arse tail). In a World Cup in which a three figure score from the last 10 overs is pretty much standard, they hobbled from 130-0 after 30 overs to 303-8 in 50. Basically, they scored in 20 overs not much more than a lot of sides would have been aiming for in 10.