When Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah batted their way through a defiant and stunning 89-run stand that couldn’t be broken, it was a massive tick for the Indian Test side. For the last few years, if there is one thing that has haunted Virat Kohli and co, it is the lower-order runs. Be it while batting or bowling, the last three wickets constantly haunted India.
The Indian tail would normally get blown away in no time and in return, the Indian bowling attack which has been arguably the best in the world just couldn’t dismiss the opposition tail. That would be the difference on so many occasions and in fact, that has cost India multiple Test matches as well.
In the Test series against England in 2018, India lost 1-4. But the series was much much closer than what the score-line suggests. The bowling was top-notch from both sides. Virat Kohli had a mind-boggling series where he smashed 593 runs in five Test matches and the second-best was well more than 200 runs adrift.
But the difference was between the two lower-orders. With the bat, the Indian tail averaged a mere 13.07 runs for the last three partnerships (8th, 9th and 10th wicket stands) in that series. On the contrary, their England counterparts averaged 25. There were three fifty-plus stands for England for the last three wickets throughout the series and India had none.
However, that changed in this ongoing series. Shami and Bumrah are in the top 15 run-getters of this series after the first two Test matches. Bumrah has the same number of runs as Virat Kohli while Shami has more. In fact, Shami has more runs than most of the England batting line-up (except Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow). Bumrah is not too far behind either.
The way the pace bowling duo batted on the fifth morning was remarkable. At 209/8, the end seemed nigh for India and they were in danger of getting bowled out with a lead of under 200. But Shami and Bumrah had other plans. England had spread out the field for the bouncer. They sledged both the Indian fast bowlers and peppered them with the short stuff. Bumrah was even hit on the head a couple of times.
But it barely rattled him. He got back up, passed the concussion test with a smile and gave it back to the England bowlers. He batted stoically with great resilience. He braved it out against the bumpers, defended solidly and never let go of any scoring opportunities. The 27-year-old Gujarat fast bowler got 34.
Meanwhile, Shami who batted at No. 8 in the first innings got a demotion. On various instances, he has been guilty of throwing it away. He has constantly been criticised for not putting a prize on his wicket. And he did just that in this innings. He kept the scoreboard ticking with singles as the field was spread out. But when a loose delivery came his way, he didn’t waste the chance of hitting it to the boundary. The Bengal pacer blazed his way to the second half-century of his Test career.
Despite being eight-down and staring down the barrel, the Shami-Bumrah pair revived the hopes, all of which were lost when Rishabh Pant walked back in the fourth over of the day. And it wasn’t that all the runs came through outside edges, inside edges or top-edges. It was proper sensible batting from the two premier Indian fast bowlers. They scored at a brisk rate as well and added 89 runs in just 20 overs.
This partnership flattened the England side and when they came out to bat, they looked lost and dead. They came out with a mindset to defend, defend and defend and were found out. It was the pair of Bumrah and Shami that struck early for India to put the fragile England batting line-up under pressure.
Both Bumrah and Shami have been magnificent with the ball. However, it is with their contribution bat that India will be most pleased about. When India added 45 runs in 59 balls for the last two wickets in the first Test, it seemed like a job well done. However, there was some doubt over the consistency with which they can replicate that.
And come the second Test, the Indian lower-order stood tall once again. And make no mistake, this hasn’t come by fluke or just by chance. There has been some proper work that has gone into the batting of the likes of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj. All bowlers spend a considerable amount of time batting in the nets.
Just before the start of the series, India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane admitted that the Indian bowlers are working hard on their batting and they are really looking to contribute as much as they can.
“Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, Umesh and Ishant are putting in the effort in the nets. Whatever 20-30 runs we score in end, matters a lot. It’s good that they are wanting to bat for at least 10-12 minutes in the nets. See result comes later and what is important is the process and working hard, and contribute as a member of the team. We are hoping for some contributions from our tail-enders,” Rahane was quoted saying in one of the pre-series press conferences.
There was even a picture of Bumrah bowling with his pads on that was posted on the BCCI social media handles and it went viral. Hence, India will be overjoyed with the way their lower order has contributed, with Bumrah and Shami leading the charge.
To put this in context, No. 9, 10 and 11 contributed with a mere 74 runs (six batters combined) in the entire five-match series against England in 2018. This one partnership has overtaken that tally. In fact, both Shami and Bumrah are closing in on that tally individually.
Yes, India cannot get too carried away by this and there is still some consistency that needs to come in. They’ve done it for two games and it needs to be seen if they can do it frequently. But for now, India can breathe a sigh of relief given the way their bowlers have batted. The hard work has paid off.