Gone are the days where not much was expected from those batting down the order; when those coming after the first seven could get out cheaply playing a rash shot, smile on their way back, and no one would bat an eyelid. Cricket, like much else, has evolved over the years. Being a team sport, you are expected to contribute even if you come in to bat at No. 11. That the Indian middle-order is struggling is a different story altogether.
Of all Test-playing nations since 2018, India's last three batsmen have had the worst average. However, if the last two Tests are anything to go by, that trend seems to be changing.
In the first two Tests against England, India's number nine, 10, and 11 batsmen (tailenders or bowling all-rounders, as they will soon prefer to be called), other than performing their duty with the ball, quite commendably, if one might add, shared crucial partnerships, stuck it out at the crease, and scored vital runs to put the team in a dominant position.
In the drawn first Test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, where rain on the fifth day robbed the match of an exciting finish, India's often brittle batting tail made a significant contribution, adding close to 50 runs.
Jasprit Bumrah scored his then career-best score of 28, Mohammed Shami scored 13, and Mohammed Siraj remained not out on 7, giving India a 95-run first-innings lead in the low scoring match.
As expected, their effort earned praise from skipper Virat Kohli.
"They've been in the nets regularly, wanting to contribute regularly, wanting to contribute to the team," Kohli said after the draw. "Getting 50-plus runs from those three bowlers was like gold dust for us. We'd have been talking about a lead of 40-odd, and then we got to a lead of 95 purely because of their efforts."
In the very same match, England's last three could only manage 20 runs. "Just the grit and determination," Kohli said. "As opposition, when the bowlers get runs, it can be annoying. They did a tremendous job with the bat."
Now in hindsight, one can say their batting exploits were just a trailer. The whole movie (hopefully not for India's sake) was reserved for the second Test at Lord's.
India had ended Day Four at Lord's at 181-6 with a lead of 154 runs. Rishabh Pant, the last established batsman, was at the crease with Ishant Sharma and had the responsibility of putting a good score on the board to give the Indian bowlers a decent total to defend on the last day. But that wasn't to be. After adding 28 runs to India's total from overnight, both men were back in the pavilion, bringing two bowlers Shami and Bumrah, at the crease.
Soon, drama followed. England bowlers gave Bumrah the same treatment he had given to England's James Anderson, welcoming him to the crease with a barrage of bouncers. Then Bumrah was seen in a verbal battle with England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and bowler Mark Wood. A pumped-up Bumrah smashed Wood for a boundary on the very next ball with a wild swing of his bat. Anderson soon got involved in a war of words with both Bumrah and Shami. It was all India needed.
Two batters, who were playing unorthodox and unconventional shots as usually seen and expected from tailenders, started playing classical cover drives, forward defensive shots. The more time they spent at the crease, the more confident they got, with Shami even dancing down the crease and bludgeoning off-spinner Moeen Ali to long-on. Smiling while they were at it, the two looked more and more comfortable. The England bowlers, too, became more and more clueless, with the head and shoulders of the whole team stooping low. As they were cheered on by their teammates from the historic Lord's balcony, Shami and Bumrah brought up their personal best scores of 56* and 34* respectively and shared an unbroken ninth-wicket partnership of 89 runs to put India in an unassailable position.
Their effort was such that it was unimaginable even for skipper Kohli and most of the country.
"Unbelievable. We all knew that we are counting on Rishabh to carry through with the tail and get us extra runs. We were thinking, 'Okay, 200 would be great. 175-180, we'll take that as well to have a crack at them.' But 280 is something we could not have imagined," Kohli told bcci.tv after the match.
"Just shows that in this game, when you walk onto the field, you have a chance as an individual. If you have that belief to take that chance, special things can happen. Jasprit and Shami were outstanding – what they did shifted the momentum towards us. The opposition was completely out of the game," he added.
Over the years, Ishant and Shami have helped India save or even win a match with meaningful contributions.
England has been a favourite hunting ground for Shami as both his half-centuries in Test cricket have come against them in their country. Shami has also come up with important knocks from time to time, like in 2018 when he scored those vital 27 runs in his 35-run partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar against South Africa in the third Test match at Johannesburg. The two helped India set a target of 241 for South Africa, with Shami taking five wickets in the home team's second innings leading to a win for India by 63 runs.
Bumrah and Siraj shared a crucial 33-run partnership for the tenth wicket in the first Test at Nottingham, helping India increase their lead to 95 runs. Siraj's contribution was just seven; however, keeping in mind the context of the match and the fact that he remained unbeaten despite facing the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson speaks wonders of his resilience.
And it wasn't the first time Siraj had played such an innings. Earlier this year, during India's second Test match against England at Chennai, Siraj had shared a 49-run partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin for the tenth wicket, scoring his career-best score of 16 not out, which included two huge sixes. Their partnership helped India set a target of 482 runs for England.
Ishant Sharma, a veteran of 103 Tests, scored his career-best of 57 against West Indies in the second Test of the tour in Kingston. His 112-run partnership for the eighth wicket with Hanuma Vihari in the first innings gave India the upper hand in the Test match.
Kohli has rightly pointed out that there is a pattern developing where India is now winning not due to the heroics of just one player, but all 11. The tailenders showed guts and resilience and proved how sticking it out at the crease can turn the fate of the match.
Shami and Bumrah had been given a standing ovation from the iconic Long Room inside the Lord's Pavilion at lunch on Day Five of the second Test. If things continue the way they are, soon such ovations may become a regular feature, ones India will take some time getting used to.