Batting order (cricket)
In cricket, the batting order is the sequence in which batsmen play through their team's innings, there always being two batsmen taking part at any one time. All eleven players in a team are required to bat if the innings is completed (i.e., if the innings does not close early due to a declaration or other factor).
The batting order is colloquially subdivided into:
- opening batsmen or openers (the two batsmen who start, or open, the innings)
- upper or top order (batsmen at positions three, four and sometimes five in the order)
- middle order (batsmen five to seven)
- lower order or tail (batsmen eight to eleven)
The order in which the eleven players will bat is usually established before the start of a cricket match, but may be altered during play. The decision is based on factors such as each player's specialities; the position each batsman is most comfortable with; each player's skills and attributes as a batsman; possible combinations with other batsmen; and the match situation whereby, for example, the team may require a more defensive or attacking player at that point in the innings.
Changing the batting order
The captain of the team can change the batting order during the game at his or her discretion. There are no rules about the nature or number of changes made and, if more than one innings is played, the order used in each need not be the same. It has even been known for a captain to completely reverse his batting order for the second innings after following on. This has made it possible for a bowler to take a hat-trick across three consecutive overs of a match, including the same batsman twice.
There are various reasons why the captain might make a change from the established order. Usually, however, captains and coaches prefer not to adjust the batting order unless necessary.
If the state of the game requires runs to be scored quickly, a captain will often promote a batsman who is known to score quickly up the order. This is usually a lower-order batsman, as their wicket is not regarded as being so valuable. A batsman who is promoted up the order with the intention of scoring quick runs is called a pinch hitter.
When a wicket falls near the end of the day, a lower order (less capable) batsman might be sent in to bat with the intention that the more capable players will be held in reserve until the next morning. The more capable players are then not exposed to the risk of dismissal while tired or in low-light conditions. The batsman who is sent in is known as the nightwatchman. This tactic is also used because players are typically nervous and unsettled at the start of the innings before settling into their rhythm and becoming "set". Sending a specialist batsman in late in the day means that he will have to survive one such period in the afternoon, before doing the same again after the resumption of play the next day, increasing the chance of a dismissal, so a less valuable batsman is sent in instead.
The opening batsmen or "openers" are the batsmen who bat first in the innings. This position is important as the openers need to get the innings off to a good start. The early fall of wickets can have a psychological impact on the rest of the team, affecting their performance with the bat. The opening batsmen also get the first experience of the pitch and conditions, and must be able to adjust to them quickly.
Most importantly, the opening batsmen must face a new ball, which is hard and has a pronounced seam. This makes it more liable to travel fast, bounce high, seam around (i.e., bounce unpredictably off the seam) and swing (i.e., deviate sideways when travelling through the air). These early conditions favour the bowling team, so the opening batsmen must have considerable patience, a sound technique and be good defensively. As the ball gets older, its condition starts to favour the batting team. Therefore, the openers will ideally stay at the crease long enough to protect the batsmen further down the order.
In first-class cricket, the rate at which the openers score runs is not as important as "taking the shine off" the new ball. This is the process of softening and roughening the cricket ball, whose condition tends to degrade the longer it is in play. By occupying the crease for a long time and taking the shine off the ball, the openers themselves are able to score more freely later on. This also makes batting easier for the rest of the order. Because of the defensive technique required early on, openers are sometimes less fluent stroke-players than the specialist batsmen who follow.
In limited overs cricket, the role of opening batsman is slightly different. In this type of cricket a high run rate is a necessity. Also, in the early 1990s, fielding restrictions were introduced in the early overs of the game, limiting the fielding side to only two players on the boundary. To start the innings effectively and take advantage of the fielding restrictions, it became beneficial to have an aggressive batsman opening the innings.
The batsmen who bat at positions 3, 4 and 5 in the order are sometimes the most technically proficient batsmen with the best stroke play. As they are likely to face an older ball that is easier to score runs against, they must aim to make a large number of runs. They may be exposed to the new ball if an opener loses his wicket early on and so must be equipped to deal with this scenario as well. Top and middle order batsmen must also be adaptable as they may be required to attack, consolidate or defend according to the needs of the team as the match situation develops. The world's most prolific and best recognised batsmen are generally found in the top order (e.g., Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar batted at numbers 3 and 4 respectively).
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The middle order usually consists of versatile batsmen who must continue to build an innings. The middle order batsman is likely to be facing a much older ball bowled by a spin bowler and defensive technique is necessary to overcome this type of attack, but they are often also fleet-footed players who attack slow bowling by charging down the pitch. The middle order players must also be adept at making runs when playing with the poor quality batsmen in the lower order. This requires the ability to manipulate the strike so that the tail-enders are shielded from the more potent bowlers.
Players who are designated as all-rounders often bat in the middle order (e.g., Garfield Sobers usually batted at number 6; by contrast, W G Grace always opened the innings). Wicketkeepers generally bat in the middle order as well, often at number 7 (e.g. Adam Gilchrist). One reason for placing all-rounders and wicket-keepers in the middle-order even though they may be more skilled than those who batted above them was because such players would be tired after bowling or keeping wicket during the preceding innings.
In One Day International cricket, middle order batsmen are generally able to change their game depending on the conditions. If their team loses wickets early, they must be able to play a long careful innings. Conversely, if they are not required to bat until later in the game, they must be able to attempt to score quickly, often attempting to hit many fours or sixes, and if they only have a short period to bat, they are expected to be innovative and able to settle after a short period. In run-chases they are required to be good at calculating and minimising the risks needed to reach the target, by scoring at close to the rate required. If they score more quickly than is required, they run the risk of getting out and exposing the weaker, lower-order batsmen to the pressure situation, but if they score too slowly, then they fall behind schedule and the pressure again increases.
Lower order or tail
The lower order is made up of players who have average or poor batting skills, commonly known as tailenders (tail ender or tail-ender). These players are the team's specialist bowlers and sometimes the wicketkeeper. Therefore the start of the lower order may vary in position depending on the balance of the side in terms of overall batting capability.
It is likely that these batsmen will be dismissed for low scores. However, as expectations on these players are low when they are batting, they often play aggressive, carefree shots in the hope of achieving as many runs as possible. On occasion, the scores posted by the lower order have made a difference to the outcome of a match. If a significant contribution has come from the tail-enders, it is often said that "the tail wagged".
On occasions in which the batting team is a long way behind its opponents, the lower-order batsmen may attempt to salvage a draw by playing defensively until the end of the match. An example of this would be the first test in the 2009 Ashes series, in which England bowlers James Anderson and Monty Panesar were able to remain at the crease for 11.3 overs, denying Australia the chance to win the match.
The last batsman in the order is sometimes referred to as Last man Jack, a term that has passed into everyday parlance. This is because if the batting order were arranged as a pack of cards numbers 9 and 10 would be followed by Jack. The batsman those who bat at numbers 7, 8, and 9 are known as middle lower order batsman.
Highest Test match scores for each batting position
- Len Hutton (ENG): 364 vs. Australia at The Oval, 1938
- Matthew Hayden (AUS): 380 vs. Zimbabwe at Perth, 2003–04
- Brian Lara (WI): 400* vs. England at St. John's, 2003–04
- Mahela Jayawardene (SL): 374 vs. South Africa at Colombo, 2006–07
- Michael Clarke (AUS): 329* vs. India at Sydney, 2012
- Doug Walters (AUS): 250 vs. New Zealand at Christchurch, 1976–77
- Sir Donald Bradman (AUS): 270 vs. England at Melbourne, 1936–37 (NOTE: Bradman usually batted much higher in the batting order, and for this innings only had reversed his team's batting order, resulting in him batting at number 7)
- Wasim Akram (PAK): 257* vs. Zimbabwe at Sheikhupura, 1996–97
- Ian Smith (NZ): 173 vs. India at Auckland, 1989–90
- Walter Read (ENG): 117 vs. Australia at The Oval, 1884
- Ashton Agar (AUS): 98 vs. England at Trent Bridge, 2013
- Cricinfo Ask Steven Column – see the last question – retrieved 16 November 2006.