The tailenders' tale: Is India's inability to get rid of lower order batsmen the biggest reason for their overseas losses?
5th January 2018 - India had got the South African top-order out for just 202 runs, but the tailenders took their total to 286. Those 84 runs cost India as they lost the match by 72 runs. They eventually lost the series 2-1.
1st August 2018 - History repeated itself again. India got the English top order out in the span of 90 runs in the second innings of the first Test. But the tail, led by Sam Curran, again denied India as they added another 90 runs. India lost the match by 31 runs.
10th December 2018 - India again removed the Australian top order for 187 runs. Australia were left with 136 to chase, with India needing just 3 wickets for the win. Once again, India's woes came to the fore as the tailenders scored 105 runs, which almost took the match away from India. Fortunately for Virat Kohli, India did not lose this time around.
India have played in three different countries this year, but there has been no change in their fortunes when it comes to bowling out the opposition. And this is not something new; the inability to get rid of lower order batsmen has been a huge worry since MS Dhoni's time.
Tailenders, whether on their own or in the company of a set top-order batsman, have scored truckloads of runs against India, which have washed away all the good efforts by the bowlers to get the top order out.
How can you expect an overseas win when you cannot get the tailenders out? The batting has obviously been a problem too, but if you claim your bowling to be among the best in the world, then you cannot afford to leak runs - and definitely not against the bowlers of a team.
It is acceptable if you aren't able to get the tailenders out once or twice, maybe because you weren't prepared for that kind of resistance. But when it happens again and again, then it is not a mistake, but a chronic failure.
Is overconfidence the problem?
One possible reason for these successive failures could be overconfidence; the thought that you are superior to the tailenders. But India don't seem to have realized that this is a mistake.
This overconfidence was clearly visible during India's third Test against England this year. England, with eight wickets down, needed 275 runs to win. Jasprit Bumrah needed 1 wicket to complete his 5-for. But India became so lax in the field that they conceded 74 runs for the last two wickets, presumably in a bid to ensure Bumrah got his five-wicket haul.
The match was needlessly forced into the fifth day when it could have been over on the fourth day itself.
What can India do to counter the problem?
India are definitely a team that have shown the willingness to improve. And they can certainly improve on this aspect too, if only they focus on it as a serious problem.
They could try bowling defensively to stop the tailenders from scoring runs, they same way they do against the top order batsmen. Right now they frequently try to bowl aggressively against them without any patience, hoping to get their wickets, but this strategy has often backfired.
Bowling with patience will create pressure on the tailenders, which will ultimately provide wickets. It's a tried and tested formula executed to perfection by the likes of South Africa and even Australia, and something that Kohli & Co would do well to consider.