Mitchell Starc’s heroics with the bat in the first test of the India vs Australia series in Pune showed the value of bowlers who can hold their own with the bat too. His 61 off 63 balls, which included six 4s and three 6s, proved crucial in helping the visitors post 260 in the first innings after slumping to 205-9. It also reminded us of the unbridled joy of watching a tailender put a bowling attack to the sword.
We’ve all been there, whether as a player or a fan, on the receiving end or the ones doling out the punishment. The top order have been dispatched. The middle order dismantled. All that stands between you and victory is the tail end. Bless them, they try their best and hell, they might even get a few streaky runs before they join the real batsmen in the hutch. But they’re not a threat. They’re an opportunity for the bowlers to boost their average, pad out the stat sheets and get that often elusive fiver-fer.
Every now and again however, tailenders ignore the script, struck with a new found belief that they are the next in a long line of great all-rounders. Suddenly they’re seeing the ball like a beach ball, striking it with the confidence and ferocity of Beefy at Headingley. So what if the top order had made a hash of it? They clearly hadn’t read the pitch properly. But no to worry, the tail will sort this one out.
Who can forget Monty Panesar slog sweeping Muralitharan for six? His 28 ball cameo yielded 26 runs and brought a little magic back to the England batting line up that had been decimated by Murali’s 8-70. Or Jason Gillespie’s epic 201* as nightwatchmen against Bangladesh in his final test appearance? A man whose plan on the day was simple, “block it when it’s on the stumps, and hit it when it’s not!”
There is something undeniably fun about watching a bowler at the crease. They look nervous, their footwork and technique stuck firmly between all over the place and non-existent. Then they cream one through the covers and all their awkwardness melts away. Unshackled from the knowledge of their previous batting performances, the shoulders loosen and they start to enjoy themselves. And the crowd, always a fan of an underdog, cheer them on to scale heights they never thought possible.
Watching a tailender bat brings out the kids in us all, whisking us back the halycon days of cricket in the park. And their see ball, hit ball philosophy reminding us of what we can achieve when we enjoy ourselves and don’t take it all too seriously.