The Friday Column May 28, 2004

The master stonewaller, and Nass the crisis man

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

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:

The king of stodge
It's highly unlikely that Mark Richardson will win many votes in a contest for most attractive batsman, but that won't bother him or his team. Over the last three-and-a-half years, Richardson has ensured that at least one spot in the New Zealand top order hasn't needed any tinkering.

An earlier column had already pointed out Richardson's ability to get starts: for any batsman, and especially an opener, the early part of his innings is a period when he is at his most vulnerable - the ball is new and hard, the bowler fresh and charged up, and the pitch often at its liveliest. Richardson tends to survive that period better than most - only 18% of his innings (10 out of 55) have resulted in sub-10 scores. Also, only twice has his average in any series (excluding one-off Tests) slipped into the 20s, an indication that through almost four years of international cricket he has never suffered a major slump. (Click here for Richardson's series-wise averages.)

Richardson's most vital contribution to the team, though, has been his ability to bat on almost interminably, often completely oblivious to long runless periods, allowing the strokeplayers in the New Zealand line-up to express themselves freely, secure in the knowledge that the other end is in safe hands. Richardson is an opener from the old school - an average innings by Richardson lasts nearly three hours and consumes 129 balls. Give Virender Sehwag those many deliveries and he, given his current strike rate of nearly 75, would have amassed 94.

Richardson has often been compared to John Wright, New Zealand's opener in the 1980s. Wright scored his runs at the rate of less than 36 per 100 balls while Richardson gets them at a shade over 37, but where Richardson scores significantly over Wright is in terms of averages (48.27 to 37.83).

Here's a list that proves indisputably that Richardson is among the elite stonewallers of the game over the last 25 years. A look at Tests played since 1980 (Out of 797 matches, data on balls faced was not available for 36 matches. The numbers below exclude those Tests) reveals that among batsmen who've played at least 20 Tests and average more than 35, Richardson faces the maximum number of deliveries per Test - his 210 balls per match is seven more than the number of deliveries faced by the man generally recognised as the last word in stodgy, defensive batsmanship, Geoffrey Boycott. Not bad at all for a player who started his career bowling left-arm spin and batting at No. 11.

Tests Strike rate Ave Balls/Test
Richardson 32 37.36 48.27 209.94
Dravid 78 42.54 58.09 206.59
Boycott 23 36.30 47.73 203.48
Andrew Jones 39 39.26 44.27 190.85
Wright 74 35.85 37.83 185.95
Atherton 115 37.32 37.70 180.08
Kallis 78 41.72 54.07 179.46
Broad 25 37.86 39.55 175.48

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Cruising home in fourth-innings run-chases
Not very long ago, a fourth-innings target of over 200 was considered a stiff task - a wearing pitch and the pressure batting last to win a match was enough to ensure that the odds were stacked in favour of the bowling side. Perhaps the quality of pitches has improved significantly, perhaps the quality of batsmanship has gone up while quality bowlers have generally been scarce. Whatever the reasons, chasing a fourth-innings 200-plus target has, of late, become rather a walk in the park. Since 2000, 16 such wins have been recorded in 220 matches, a percentage of 7.27, which is significantly higher than the number in the earlier decades.

Also, since 2000, teams have won 43% of the matches when confronted with such targets, which is easily the highest for the last six decades except in the 1980s. The `80s, though, was a one-team show: West Indies accounted for six of those 11 wins.

Period Won (A) Lost Success% Total Tests (B) A/B
since 2000 16 21 43.2 220 7.27
1990s 15 36 29.4 347 4.32
1980s 11 14 44.0 266 4.14
1970s 9 23 28.1 197 4.57
1960s 10 21 32.3 186 4.84
1950s 7 12 36.8 169 4.27

Recently, New Zealand have been at the receiving end: the Lord's defeat was their second in a row when trying to defend a target of over 200 - South Africa chased down 234 to win the final Test of the 2003-04 series at Wellington. And just three matches before that one, Pakistan coasted to 277 for 3 to wrap up the series at the same venue. If their rivals across the Tasman have traditionally struggled to chase low fourth-innings targets, then New Zealand, it would seem, are building a reputation of being poor fourth-innings defenders.

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Hussain the crisis man
"At 10 for 2, I've done it for you." That's a quote which has, over the last few days, been repeated a myriad times as the cricketing world, and England in particular, contemplated Nasser Hussain's retirement. Hussain made no bones about the number of times he had bailed the team out, and the numbers bear out the fact that he had every reason to gloat about his performances in crises. As the table below indicates, Hussain saved his best for moments when England were in distress: at both No. 3 and 4, the positions where he batted for most of his career, his stats look much better when he came in at the loss of early wicket(s). Hussain may have ended with a career average of just 37.18, but he was clearly worth much more than that.

Position Inngs. Runs Ave 100s
No. 3: score < 20 for 1 27 1287 53.63 4
No. 3: score >= 20 for 1 38 1065 31.31 2
No. 4: score < 40 for 2 24 1016 44.17 5
No. 4: score >= 40 for 2 58 1861 34.46 3

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.