England in India 2012-13 January 15, 2013

Viva New Zealand

Whatever would connoisseurs of inconsequential stats do without their contributions?

One of the joys of the unceasing smorgasbord of international cricket laid before the modern cricket fan's groaning stomach is that, in any week, something will probably happen that has never, or seldom, happened before. Admittedly this is not necessarily a joy that cancels out the less alluring sensation that what you are watching is not always sport at its global pinnacle, the best against the best at their best, or anything much more significant than the fulfilment of a contractual obligation or the scratching of an eczematous commercial itch. But it is a joy nonetheless.

Carving each other's names and numbers into the easily-erodable sandstone bench of history over the last seven days have been England and India's top-order batsmen, some of their bowlers, plus the entire New Zealand team, and, by association, the South African bowling attack.

The first ODI in Rajkot was a compelling match for spectators, and a delectable one for fans of minimal-interest statistics. I, consequently, enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a truly historic game. Truly, if not relevantly. It was the first-ever ODI in which nine batsmen had scored 40 or more. Only eight times in the previous 3318 matches since the format was unexpectedly born in 1971 have eight batsman reached 40. Truly the universe tilted momentarily on its axis at the uniqueness of it all.

It was only the second time five England batsmen had passed 40 in an ODI innings (and the 17th time by any team, all in the last ten years), and their innings was one of the very few occasions in international cricket history on which the top six batsmen have all hit a six. (I will be honest, I have not checked this. If I find a fallow hour this week to mooch about with Statsguru ‒ a Mushfiqur-Rahim-sized "if" - I will find out if it has ever happened before.) (In the meantime, please try not to let the uncertainty disturb your sleep. I know you must be very worried about it.) (Someone else has probably already found this out. Ask him. Or her. If you know who he or she is.) (It was certainly the only time England's top six have ever all hit a six in an ODI. There had never even been a game in which their top four had all cleared the ropes.)

The match also provided the first instance of three England bowlers conceding more than 60 in a one-day victory; and Tim Bresnan's 8.37 is the second-highest economy rate by an England bowler who has bowled more than five overs in an ODI win (only Liam Plunkett's 1 for 71 off seven against West Indies in the 2007 World Cup beats it, with 1377 other spells lagging behind, the 1377th of them being Mike Hendrick's 1 for 5 off eight against Canada in 1979). For India, Ishant Sharma conceded the third most runs ever by an Indian in an ODI (86), and the most ever by an ODI bowler who has bowled two maidens (beating Dwayne Bravo's 10-2-80-0, also against England, in 2004).

It was only the third time India have lost an ODI despite five of their top six passing 30, and if Ajinkya Rahane had scored three more runs, it would have been the ninth ODI in which all four openers scored half-centuries (the last instance was the previous ODI in Rajkot, at a different stadium, in December 2009). Instead, it was the 11th ODI in which all four openers scored 47 or more. And if Rahane and Gautam Gambhir had added four more runs, it would have been the 12th ODI in which both opening partnerships posted century stands. It could have been truly, epically, unforgettably, only-occasionally-precedentedly almost unique.

The conclusion we can draw from all this: both sides are better at batting than bowling.

All of this however pales into insignificance compared with New Zealand's heroic efforts in South Africa to put a smile on the cricket world's statistical face. On the positive side, the Kiwis have never batted better in their second innings in an away series against the Proteas. An open-top bus parade through Wellington surely awaits ‒ their collective second-innings average of 23.5 was their best performance in their seven visits to South Africa.

Sadly for that hamster of consolation, bouncing up and down on the negative end of the statistical see-saw are several rhinoceroses of ineptitude. Only a tenth-wicket slapabout, as BJ Watling and Trent Boult added 59 in the second Test in Port Elizabeth prevented them from recording the worst-ever first-innings series performance in the history of Test cricket.

Even that only lifted them into second-last place (out of 1187), averaging 8.3 per first-innings wicket in the two Tests, compared to South Africa's 6.5 in their first ever Test series, way back in 1888-89, when a trip to that part of the cricketing universe was rather less intimidating for visiting batsmen than it is now. Given that the 1888-89 games were only retrospectively awarded Test status some years later, New Zealand can still unproudly claim to have compiled the most dismal first-innings performance in a Test series by a team that actually knew it was playing in a Test series. And they can still also anti-boast that no team has ever lost its first-innings wickets more rapidly in a series than their once-every-19.2-balls, a figure boosted by the 50 balls of marathon resistance that Watling and Boult put together last week.

New Zealand also proved the two age-old cricketing truisms: "If you go to South Africa with three of your best batsmen missing from a team that habitually gets thrashed by South Africa, the fact that you are also missing your best pace bowler and best spinner will become swiftly irrelevant"; and, "If only two of your batsmen average over 21, and none of your bowlers takes more than four wickets, then you will probably struggle to win a series against the world's best team." Wise words.

Even their two second-innings microredemptions did not spare them further statistical brickbats. Their collective series batting average of 16.30 was the equal second worst by a top-eight Test nation since 1959 - only India's cataclysm in New Zealand in 2002-03 eclipses it, when a batting line-up including Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman contrived to average 13.3 (all out for 161, 121, 99 and 154 in the two Tests), and proved another age-old cricketing truism: "When Ashish Nehra finishes third in your series batting averages, you have serious problems."

● Martin Guptill came within one review of adding his own personal piece of unwanted immortality to his team's collective numerical mauling. If he had not been reprieved by the DRS in his fourth and final innings of the series, he would have recorded the worst Test series ever by an opening batsman. The duck from which technology mercifully saved him would have left him with the unarguably insufficient total of 2 runs from four innings, his 0.5 average obliterating the previous record by anyone who has opened in three or more innings in a series ‒ 1.33 by Kenny Rutherford in the three innings (0, 0 and 4) in which he opened for the Kiwis during his nightmare debut series in the West Indies in 1985. Guptill went on to score 48. And finish fourth in the New Zealand batting averages with 12.5. Which was not particularly good news for him, New Zealand, or cricket.

Rutherford was shepherded down the order to No. 3 in the third Test, and the runs remained elusive - he scored 0 and 2. He was shuffled down to six in the fourth Test, and, away from the new ball, the floodgates opened. And the runs began to trickle. He scored 1 and 5. His 12 runs at 1.71 remain the worst return by a top-seven batsman who has played four Tests or more in a series. He was dismissed five times by Malcolm Marshall, once by Joel Garner, and once by a run-out. Twelve runs at 1.71 might with hindsight be considered reasonably promising in the circumstances. The West Indies in 1985 was a bad time and place for a young batsman to begin his Test career. Unless he was playing for West Indies.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments