The Friday column March 5, 2004

New Zealand's solution, and Sri Lanka's problem

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.

Papps snaps the chance
It's early days yet, but New Zealand may at last have found a solution to a problem which has plagued them for more than four years now. Michael Papps and Stephen Fleming, in the five matches when they opened the batting in the recent one-day series against South Africa, stitched together partnerships of 44, 8, 100, 71 and 58 - a total of 281 runs at an average of 56.2. Any team would be satisfied with starts like these, but it would have been particularly gratifying for New Zealand, so used to woeful starts in the last few years: in 112 ODIs before this series, they had lost their first wicket for a single-digit score 49 times, nearly once in two games, a record worse than even Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Not surprisingly, Papps, who scored 204 runs at 40.80, has been chosen as Mark Richardson's partner for the Test series - can he translate the ODI run-spree into the longer version as well?

  Runs Ave stand
Fleming-Papps pair 281 56.20
In 108 ODIs before that 2366 21.91

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Sri Lanka's frailties at the top
Meanwhile, there wasn't as much joy at the top of the order for the Sri Lankans: both Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu had quite a wretched time of it against the pace trio of Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz in the five-match series against Australia. Barring a 121-run stand in the second game, the opening partnerships for Sri Lanka read 12 (when Jayasuriya partnered Romesh Kaluwitharana), 1, 0, and 2.

For Jayasuriya, who mustered all of 76 runs 15.20, this series continued an appalling run of low scores: in 16 ODIs since the 2003 World Cup, Jayasuriya has aggregated just 282 at 18.80 per innings, with only one half-century. He also notched up consecutive ducks in the series, taking his overall count in ODIs to 25, only three fewer than Wasim Akram's world record of 28, and one more than what Kaluwitharana, his partner in top-order mayhem, has achieved.

Jayasuriya's lean trot

  Runs Ave 100s 50s 0s
last 16 ODIs 282 18.80 0 1 5
Career 9248 31.67 16 55 25

Most ducks in ODIs

  Innings 0s
Akram 280 28
Jayasuriya 305 25
Kaluwitharana 181 24
Srinath 121 19
Parore 161 19
Saleem Malik 256 19

The Australian success against Jayasuriya was the result not only of poor batting, but also of a well-planned attack - the fast bowlers repeatedly bowled just short and at the body, denying him the length to drive or the room to cut. In fact, Jayasuriya's record against Australia and South Africa (he averages in the early 20s against both), the two best exponents of the back-of-a-length attack, clearly suggests the way to bowl to him: in 69 matches against them, Jayasuriya has a solitary hundred to his name.

  ODIs Runs Ave 100s 50s 0s
v Aus & SA 69 1464 22.18 1 7 5
v the rest 244 7784 34.44 15 48 20

Meanwhile, the Australians' plan for Atapattu (70 runs in five matches at 14) - pitch it just outside off and nip it back off the pitch - worked beautifully too: he was bowled three times in five games, and was saved further embarrassment in the fourth ODI only because the bails stubbornly stuck to their grooves despite the ball rolling off the bat and hitting the stumps.

Atapattu's recent susceptibility against the indipper would probably be one of the areas John Dyson would be working on before Sri Lanka's Test series against Australia: in his last 30 one-dayers, Atapattu has been bowled seven times (23.3%). In 176 matches before that, Atapattu had been dismissed in that manner only 18 times (10.2%).

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One short
The Australians are famous for holding their nerve under pressure, but here's a stat which doesn't show them in very favourable light in crunch situations - they have been involved in nine matches which were decided by one-run margins, and on five of those occasions they ended up at the wrong end of the verdict. The most recent of those losses was in the second ODI against Sri Lanka, when Chaminda Vaas bowled a fabulous final over. Trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand have played out seven such matches, and interestingly, have beaten Australia twice in two tries.

  Matches Won Lost
Australia 9 4 5
New Zealand 7 4 3
India 4 2 2
South Africa 3 2 1
WI, SL, Pak, Zim 2 1 1
England 1 0 1

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.