ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

New Zealand's middle-order problems

New Zealand seem to have unearthed a solid opening combination, but they'll want more runs from their middle order, which has been the worst among the top teams since 2007

S Rajesh

May 17, 2013

Comments: 8 | Text size: A | A

Daniel Flynn prepares to leave one alone, South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Cape Town, 2nd day, January 3, 2013
Daniel Flynn has batted 39 times in the middle order in his Test career, and hasn't yet managed to score a century © AFP

One of the big gains for New Zealand in their home series against England was the unearthing of two solid opening batsmen. Over the last few years, the top two slots have given New Zealand plenty of problems - especially since the retirement of Mark Richardson - which is why it must have been immensely satisfying that New Zealand started the series with an opening partnership of 158, the highest since Trent Bridge 2004, when Richardson and Stephen Fleming added 163. Over the entire series Fulton and Rutherford aggregated 272 for the opening wicket - again the highest series aggregate since the tour to England in 2004 - at an average of 54.40. The return series in England will be an even bigger challenge for the pair and for New Zealand, given that this is the early part of the summer and England's bowlers are particularly adept at bowling with the Dukes ball.

However, along with solid starts, New Zealand will also want more substantial contributions from their middle order, an area which has again been their weakness for a while now. Ross Taylor is obviously their one star player in the middle order, but he has had other issues to sort out, and none of the others have performed consistently over a period of time. Brendon McCullum's form against England was impressive - he had scores of 74, 69, 38 and 67 not out in the four innings, the first time in his career he has scored three 50-plus knocks in a series - but he needs to sustain that consistency, and prove it wasn't a one-off.

In the last six-and-a-half years (since the beginning of 2007), New Zealand's middle order - batsmen from No. 3 to No. 6 - have averaged a mere 33 runs per dismissal, 20 fewer than table-toppers South Africa and at least five-and-a-half runs fewer than all the other top Test teams. Against all opposition excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, that average drops further, to 31.37. The next-lowest among the top teams is Pakistan, with an average of 37.43, more than six runs better than New Zealand's.

New Zealand's lack of centuries has been another prominent issue for them, and it's obvious from the table below that they fare very poorly on this measure too. Against the top sides, South Africa's middle order has scored 59 hundreds in 378 innings, a rate of a hundred every 6.4 innings; New Zealand's middle order has scored one every 21.5 innings. England, their opponents this summer, have 49 centuries in 481 innings, an average of one every 9.8 innings, less than half of New Zealand's average. Pakistan, the team just above them (among the top sides), average 15.7 innings per hundred, almost 27% better than New Zealand's average.

Middle-orders (Nos.3-6) for each team in Tests since Jan 2007
  Versus all teams Excluding Zim and B'desh
Team Tests Inngs Average 100s/ 50s Tests Inngs Average 100s/ 50s
South Africa 61 398 53.10 61/ 76 57 378 53.51 59/ 74
Sri Lanka 55 376 51.93 54/ 68 48 333 48.17 41/ 60
India 70 491 45.00 49/ 106 66 467 43.74 42/ 101
Australia 68 479 42.15 49/ 90 68 479 42.15 49/ 90
England 77 504 41.81 53/ 87 73 481 40.55 49/ 82
West Indies 54 372 41.14 33/ 75 46 321 38.88 25/ 66
Pakistan 46 332 38.83 22/ 67 43 314 37.43 20/ 62
Zimbabwe 8 64 33.94 6/ 8 5 40 23.73 1/ 4
New Zealand 50 365 33.05 18/ 64 43 323 31.37 15/ 54
Bangladesh 35 270 26.74 8/ 35 32 246 26.24 8/ 28

The only New Zealand middle-order batsman who has played a sufficient number of matches and notched up good numbers during this period is Taylor: he averages 42.55, and has eight centuries in 46 Tests; against the top teams, his stats are similar: an average of 41.06, with seven hundreds in 41 Tests. Even Taylor's series stats aren't consistent: in six of his last eight series he has averaged less than 40; in three of them it's less than 30. One of those lean series was the previous one, against England: in five innings his highest was an unbeaten 41, and his average 23.50.

Among the others, Jesse Ryder has averaged more than 40 overall, and almost 40 against the top sides, but he hasn't played too many games. McCullum averages less than 35, and his numbers are again plagued by inconsistency. Martin Guptill's overall average of 47.27 is the best among all players, but that's entirely due to one Test against Zimbabwe, when Guptill scored 245 runs in the match and was dismissed just once. Exclude that, and his average drops to 27.50.

Among the other players, Daniel Flynn's stats are the most disappointing, because of the number of opportunities he has got. Flynn impressed in his first few series, but since then it's been downhill: he hasn't averaged more than 32 in any of his last six series, and in his last series, in South Africa, he scored 22 in four innings. That meant he hadn't scored a century in 39 innings in the middle order. Not surprisingly, he didn't play the home series against England, and isn't a part of New Zealand's squad to England either.

New Zealand's middle-order batsmen (Nos.3-6) in Tests since Jan 2007
  Versus all teams Excluding Zim and B'desh
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Ross Taylor 46 3362 42.55 8/ 17 41 2957 41.06 7/ 14
Kane Williamson 23 1291 33.97 3/ 7 21 1170 33.42 3/ 6
Jesse Ryder 18 1245 41.50 3/ 6 16 1076 39.85 3/ 5
Brendon McCullum 20 1030 34.33 0/ 9 18 937 34.70 0/ 8
Daniel Flynn 22 879 25.85 0/ 6 20 825 25.00 0/ 6
Daniel Vettori 12 572 35.75 1/ 3 9 435 36.25 1/ 2
Dean Brownlie 11 542 36.13 1/ 4 9 479 36.84 1/ 3
Martin Guptill 7 520 47.27 1/ 4 6 275 27.50 0/ 3

Taylor's stats are impressive when compared to his other New Zealand mates, but they pale when compared to the top players worldwide. Among the 17 batsmen who've scored 3000 or more runs in the middle order since the beginning of 2007, Taylor's average is in 16th place, with only Ricky Ponting averaging less than him (40.53).

On top of the pile is Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who averages almost 30 more than Taylor. Kumar Sangakkara and AB de Villiers average in the 60s, while Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis have identical averages of 57.58. There are also representatives from Australia, India and England in the top ten, while South Africa's batting strength is amply displayed in the table below.

New Zealand have struggled to find such prolific batsmen over the years, but to face up to the challenge in England - and other stiff tests - they'll need a core group of middle-order batsmen who can lift their game and score consistently. Taylor, McCullum, and Kane Williamson have the ability to form that core, but averages in the mid-30s clearly aren't going to do it.

Top middle-order batsmen in Tests since Jan 2007
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 47 4093 71.80 14/ 21
Kumar Sangakkara 52 5410 65.18 21/ 20
AB de Villiers 58 4544 61.40 13/ 22
Hashim Amla 61 5298 57.58 18/ 25
Jacques Kallis 58 4952 57.58 20/ 17
Michael Clarke 66 5774 55.51 19/ 21
Thilan Samaraweera 42 3373 54.40 9/ 17
Sachin Tendulkar 64 5247 51.95 16/ 25
Jonathan Trott 41 3205 51.69 9/ 13
Mahela Jayawardene 53 4517 51.32 15/ 16

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 8 
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Posted by Somya on (May 20, 2013, 18:53 GMT)

NZ test squad - fulton , rutherford , williaamson , taylor , brownlie , mccullum , watling , vettori , southee , wagner , boult. Extras - Guptil , bruce martin/ jeetan patel , bracewell , elliot / ryder ( jessi if he ges fit )

NZ odi squad - guptil , ronchi , williamson , taylor , ryder ( if he is fit ) / elliot , b. mccullum , franklin , vettori , mills , southee , mcglashean . Extras - watling , boult , N.mccullum , nicol.

NZ t-20 squad - Frankliin , guptil , b. mccullum , ryder ( if he is fit ) / fulton , taylor , ronchi , vettori , N.mccullum , andre adams ( surprise selection but he is fantastic t-20 bowler , very under rated guy ) , southee , mcglashean . Extras - watling , nicol , bracewell , boult/

guys who should be in radar for selection - wan wyk , jeetan patel , nethula , chris martin , gillispie , andrew elis , flynn

Posted by Dummy4 on (May 18, 2013, 1:34 GMT)

Continued: hughes I feel is vulnerable to quality spin and swing. Khawaja although only averages 29, he did face the toughest of batting conditions, where he batted at no3 to fill shoes of ponting in ashes, then went to srilanka and batted at no 6 on crumbling pitches, then went to south africa to bat at no3 on a green top, and then came back to Australia to bat at no3 on green top. considering his highest score is only 65, he can consistently last 70-80 balls an innings. Add 80 balls of Cowan (which he also does consistently) and that is the whole session. Time to take the old way where openers are sacrificial lambs to make way for much superior middle order batsman like Clarke who can come in when the ball is much older.

Posted by Dummy4 on (May 18, 2013, 1:22 GMT)

Batmanian @What are u talking about. Khawaja was always a number 3, infact before considered as a replacement for ponting. @no 5, who is the guy, I think Doolan, who scored a century against the touring South African, would be ideal - won't replace hussey, but should be a solid player. I think maybe clarke should move at number 4, have doolan at 5, wade at 6 and watson at no 7. England is a good place for swing bowlers and watson's bowling shouldn't be missed. Also no7 is when the ball swings the least and knowing the batting abilities of starc (almost got a test century when rest of batting failed), pattinson and siddle, he wouldn't be short of support.

Posted by jared on (May 17, 2013, 9:49 GMT)

Its not just the middle order its the whole batting unit as a whole, i know that sounds awfull and the truth hurts but i am more optomistic about the future, rutherford looks a good find, williamson is just starting to find his feet, taylor is a world class player, hopefully ryders absense is over soon, he adds obvious class, mccullum is batting now where he should with amediate results and we finnally have a keeper who can bat so its not all doom and gloom, there is also one or two first class players putting their hands up in craig and carl cachopa, surely with the right coaching and application these guys can turn our fortunes around.

Posted by Ryan on (May 17, 2013, 5:32 GMT)

Taylor is pretty much an opening batsman, can't be too critical. Most of the time he is out in the middle within 30-40 minutes. If Cricinfo has a stat on time waited before batting at #4, Ross Taylor would be near the top of the list.

Posted by paul on (May 17, 2013, 4:26 GMT)

Problem with the NZ middle order is they are really opening batsman....I would suggest that if you did the stats ,you would find that the NZ #4 and #5 would make it to the middle quicker than any other test team......Taylor probably made it to the middle within the first half hour in most of his test innings...

Posted by Pete on (May 17, 2013, 4:01 GMT)

The definition of the middle order as 3-6 is news to me! I would say 4-7 or even 4-8. One of Australia's big problems is it can't find a first drop, so we end up with a generally dysfunctional combination of four openers. First drop is a singular role for which you can occasionally convert an opener (Boon), but for which you can't just promote a middle order player. Wouldn't play Clarke there, for example. Hughes could mature into it... hasn't yet. Khawaja's big chance is to perform at the spot below Clarke, be that five or six, then claim three; he could be there for six, seven years before powering down. But don't put him at three yet, and turf him if he doesn't perform lower down. Wish Shaun Marsh had worked out...

NZ's good batsmen - Rutherford, Taylor and McCullum - definitely need more support; also important that the bowlers can put the last pieces in place to take twenty wickets in seven to eight sessions - then they would be formidable.

Posted by Andrew on (May 17, 2013, 3:37 GMT)

Vettori batting @ #7 would of staunched the Kiwi batting + given extra bowling options!

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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