What would England have given for a bowler who could mop up the last man?
It's a problem that happens at every level, yet it should be easy.
These are the guys with the worst batting skill and the lowest average. They repeatedly play and miss and look like going any moment, but somehow the wickets don't materialise.
Bowling to the tail is a skill
That's because you have to bowl differently to the tail than you do proper batsmen.
You have to bowl at the stumps.
This may not seem to be a revelation, but sometimes with all the planning and working out of proper batsmen's weaknesses we forget a simple truth:
If they miss, you hit.
Most batsmen in the bottom three are unable to withstand a bowler who is bowling at the stumps six balls per over. So the default plan is to bowl a line and length that ideally hits the top of the off stump
Middle and even leg stump should be fine too, just hit them.
In most cases this is all the advice you need.
However, sometimes the plan will fail. For example, the big swinging number 11 may come off and hit you for a few boundaries.
What happens then?
Adjust to the type of tail-ender
It's important to be flexible in your plan but to keep applying common sense. So in our big hitting example, I would still encourage the bowler to aim at the stumps, but perhaps with a very full length to stop him getting under the ball.
You could also block off his big shot with deep fielders and leave a gap through square cover to get him playing in an unusual area. This tactic of leaving a gap in the field also works for the blockers.
Even the most stonewall of defenders would find it difficult to resist a half volley from an off spinner with an open off side field.
The more shots they play, the more likely they are to make a mistake.
Putting on the pressure
The final tool at your disposal against the tail is mental pressure. If the lower order is in, the game is either in the balance or they need to save it by blocking out. Either way, they will be feeling pressure as they come to the crease.
You can add to this pressure in subtle ways.
Placing fielders close in, especially short square leg and silly mid off, puts an awareness of fielders in a batsman's mind. The batsman may get nervous and push too hard at one, or they may try and hit the field back with some lusty blows. Either way, you are on top.
It also helps to have a wicketkeeper who can keep the chat up. A few well-chosen comments to your team mates about technical weaknesses of a player don't even need to be directed at the batsman but just enough to be in earshot.
Anything that puts a seed of doubt in the mind of the player should be enough. Just avoid sledging; there is no place for going that far in my mind.
Whatever your plan, make sure you keep it simple and aim at the stumps as much as possible. This will give you the highest chance of success against the tail.
Even if you only have five balls at number 11.
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