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ESPNcricinfo's stats editor S Rajesh looks at the stories behind the stats

The Friday column

Problems at the top, and Fleming's love for the chase

Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it

S Rajesh

January 16, 2004

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Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it. Every Friday, The Numbers Game will take a look at statistics from the present and the past, busting myths and revealing hidden truths.

Stutter at the start
In the first four matches of their one-day series against Pakistan, only once did New Zealand's openers put together a partnership of more than ten. For most teams, that would be a cause for concern, but New Zealand, it would seem, are used to minimal contributions from their opening pair. Since January 2000, New Zealand have played 112 ODIs, and in 55 of them - that's very nearly once every two matches - the first wicket has fallen before the team has passed ten. It's an appalling record - Zimbabwe have done considerably better, while even Bangladesh's openers have achieved marginally more success. New Zealand have lost 35 of those 55 games when their opening partnership has failed to deliver.

Team Matches 1st wicket at <= 10 % of failures
Australia 110 24 21.82
Pakistan 136 36 26.47
South Africa 123 33 26.83
West Indies 93 25 26.88
India 122 33 27.05
Sri Lanka 113 33 29.20
England 84 27 32.14
Zimbabwe 108 40 37.04
Bangladesh 45 21 46.67
New Zealand 112 55 49.11

Part of the problem has been the New Zealand selectors' inability to stick with an opening pair for a reasonable length of time. In these 112 matches, 23 different combinations have been tried, which means an average of fewer than five games per duo. The pair with the best credentials to succeed were Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle, and while they survived the longest - 18 matches - even they only managed a modest 385 runs together, with nine stands of ten or less. In fact, half their total runs came in a single match, when they put together 193 against Pakistan at Dunedin in 2000-01. Take that partnership away, and they managed a mere 192 from their remaining 17 attempts. Mark Richardson has shown his ability to get off to starts almost every time in Tests - perhaps it's time for the selectors to give him an extended one-day run.

Most capped New Zealand opening pairs since Jan 2000

ODIs Total runs Ave stand P'ships <=10
Fleming & Astle 18 385 21.39 9
Astle & Sinclair 14 369 26.36 7
Astle & Nevin 14 329 23.5 7
Astle & Spearman 10 135 13.5 7
Fleming & Nevin 9 204 22.67 4

* * * * * *

Fleming's fabulous five
Stephen Fleming may have been part of many of those unsuccessful opening stands, but the problem for New Zealand has often been the other opener. Fleming himself has been in splendid form of late, averaging nearly 44 in his last 20 matches. His 115 not out against Pakistan in the third one-dayer at Christchurch was his fifth ODI century. All of them have been unbeaten efforts, and scored in successful run-chases of challenging targets - the lowest total that New Zealand needed to make in those five matches was 237, against Australia at Napier.

Fleming's five hundreds

Score Against Venue, date Target Result
106* West Indies Port-of-Spain, 1995-96 239 Won by 4 wkts
116* Australia Melbourne, 1997-98 252 Won by 4 wkts
111* Australia Napier, 1997-98 237 Won by 7 wkts
134* South Africa Johannesburg, 2002-03 307 Won by 9 wkts (D-L)
115* Pakistan Christchurch, 2003-04 256 Won by 7 wkts

Not surprisingly, Fleming's record is significantly better when New Zealand bat second - he averages 16 more in run-chases than when batting first: among players with at least 75 caps and an average of at least 30, only Matthew Hayden and Sunil Gavaskar have a more skewed record.

Batsmen who prefer a run-chase

ODIs Ave 1st bat ave (1) 2nd bat ave (2) Difference (2-1)
Hayden 82 40.85 29.47 61.25 31.78
Gavaskar 108 35.13 24.22 48.85 24.63
Fleming 211 31.62 24.25 40.88 16.63
Cronje 188 38.64 33.03 47.46 14.43
Sehwag 81 35.41 29.4 40.95 11.55
Thorpe 82 37.18 31.5 42.88 11.38

At the other end of the spectrum are players who prefer to bat without the pressure of a target looming over their heads. Using the same qualifications (75 matches and 30-plus average), Damien Martyn tops that list. Interestingly, all five of his hundreds have come when Australia batted first, and four of them have been unbeaten ones.

Batsmen who prefer setting a target

ODIs Ave 1st bat ave (1) 2nd bat ave (2) Difference (1-2)
Martyn 135 42.25 50.76 30.67 20.09
Wood 83 33.62 40.44 25.43 15.01
Gower 114 30.77 36.96 24.47 12.49
Dean Jones 164 44.61 48.9 37.69 11.21
Geoff Marsh 117 39.97 44.37 33.96 10.41
Haynes 238 41.37 46.42 37.41 9.01

* * * * * *

Pakistan's flourish at the finish
Pakistan's late charge in one-dayers has now become rather expected, and a rate of around eight an over is only par for the course: in the two matches in the current series against New Zealand when Pakistan batted first and survived the entire 50 overs, they managed 81 and 102 off the last ten. In fact, in the last year, Pakistan have scored more than 100 off the last ten overs on six occasions, while they average 7.58 per over during that period since 2003.

Significantly, those runs have often come when Pakistan's top order has floundered: at Auckland against New Zealand, they recovered from a miserable 127 for 6 to post a respectable total, while on three other occasions, their late charge was the difference between a reasonable target and a daunting one.

Pakistan's best in the last 10 overs since 2003

Against Total after 40 Total after 50 Runs in last 10 Match result
New Zealand 201-2 314-7 113 Won by 51 runs
Kenya 180-5 286-8 106 Won by 143 runs
Bangladesh 218-3 323-3 105 Won by 137 runs
South Africa 172-4 277-6 105 Won by 8 runs
New Zealand 178-4 281-6 103 Won by 124 runs
New Zealand 127-6 229-7 102 Lost by 4 wickets

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.

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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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