England vs. India: Time to Face Up to Embarrassing 10th-Wicket Problems

Freddie WildeContributor IJuly 10, 2014

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  India batsman Mohammed Shami (r) and partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar celebrate their 100 partnership for the last wicket and Shami's 50 which he had reached with a straight six during day two of the 1st  Investec Test Match between England and India at  Trent Bridge on July 10, 2014 in Nottingham, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

It didn't take long for the excuses to come. The pitch was flat. The bowlers were tired. England were missing a spinner. Heck, perhaps even Kevin Pietersen poisoned the bowlers' breakfast.

But in reality, in international cricket, rarely are there genuine, water-tight excuses for a fully-fit pack of bowlers not breaking a 10th-wicket partnership for as long as England struggled to do so on Thursday, especially one made up of batsmen Nos. 9 and 11—regardless of how well they bat.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, batting at nine, was joined by Mohammad Shami—owner of a Test-match average of 3.3 as his innings began—with India having lost four wickets for three runs in the sequence of play preceding their coming together.

Three hours and 10 minutes later, the partnership of 111 runs that lasted 38.1 overs was finally broken as Kumar holed out to Joe Root off the bowling of Moeen Ali.

The partnership resisted, drifted and then lifted India from what would have been a below-par total to a competitive one.

Not only that, but the partnership gave the psychological advantage back to India, and it was of little surprise to see Alastair Cook make just five with the bat following the mentally draining three hours he'd spent previously, desperately trying to break the partnership.

Highest 10th-Wicket Partnerships vs. England since Jan 2012
Runs concededDateTeam Against
16310 Jul 2013Australia
1437 Jun 2012West Indies
11110 Jul 2014India
ESPNcricinfo

But England's problem with 10th-wicket stands is far from isolated to merely this case. For two-and-a-half years now, England's attack have found it remarkably difficult to take the final wicket of their opposition's innings.

In fact, on nine occasions the 10th pairing have put on more than 40 since January 1, 2012, and three times they have scored more than 100. That is not a blip or an aberration—that is a perpetual and deep-set problem.

There are a number of reasons as to why England are finding that final wicket so difficult to take; but perhaps the most significant of them is the encouragement their previous travails have given such partnerships.

When Kumar and Shami came together on Thursday, they will have known that it was only 12 months ago that Ashton Agar almost scored a century at No. 11 on the very same ground against England; and that 24 months ago, Tino Best almost did, too.

Hope can be the most forceful motivator, and England have provided 10th-wicket partnerships with plenty of that in recent times.

From England's point of view, captaincy is certainly one reason for the malaise. Very early in the Day 2 partnership, Alastair Cook decided to target the No. 11 Shami and defend against the No. 9 (No. 9!) Kumar.

He is a technically correct and capable batsman but that England were so quickly on the defensive is nothing other than wrong.

More recently, the absence of a front line spin bowler severely hampers Cook's ability to rotate his fast bowlers and therefore keep them fresh.

James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes all looked very tired as the afternoon wore on, and while that is not an excuse, for stamina and bowling long spells are required of them, their load would be eased were England in possession of a spinner such as Graeme Swann who could bowl many more overs than Moeen Ali.

Both Agar and Best's famous innings occurred in matches in which Swann was playing, so his absence doesn't totally explain England's woes.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 11:  Ashton Agar of Australia acknowledges the crowd after being dismissed by Stuart Broad of England for 98 runs during day two of the 1st Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground o
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Their tactics too must be questioned, rarely consistent and often panicked, England rush through a number of plans and too quickly find themselves back where they started.

Bowling full and straight, targeting the stumps with short balls thrown in should be a staple Plan A against lower-order players, and while England do try this tactic, rarely do they try for long enough.

More pertinently, England's struggles against 10th-wicket partnerships have no doubt manifested concerns in their own minds, which only serves to hasten knee-jerk plan changes, bowling changes and general sense of panic that seem to engulf them.

While the quality of lower-order batsmen is arguably higher than it ever has been, for a bowling attack with the quality England's has had over the past two years—led by Anderson and Broad—that they struggle to break 10th-wicket partnerships is simply unacceptable.

There were excuses, there are excuses, but none suffice.

England have had problems taking the 10th wicket now for too long to blame external factors; the real blame lies with themselves.