The Friday Column November 12, 2004

New Zealand's batsmen, and Aussie bowling might

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:

Waiting for a Kiwi batsman to soar
After having demolished India's famed batting line-up with such ease, Glenn McGrath and co. will probably be licking their lips at the prospect of having a go at the New Zealanders. The stats tell the story: the Indian top six had three players who averaged more than 50 against Australia; in the New Zealand line-up, only Nathan Astle touches 40 against them. Craig McMillan and Mark Richardson average in the early 30s, while Stephen Fleming doesn't even manage that many. (To be fair to them, though, Fleming has only really hit his straps as a top-class batsman in the last couple of years, while Richardson has only played three Tests against the Aussies.)

Avge v Aus
Career avge
Difference
Nathan Astle 40.53 37.80 2.73
Craig McMillan 32.12 40.07 -7.95
Stephen Fleming 28.17 39.75 -11.58
Mark Richardson 30.40 47.03 -16.57
Mathew Sinclair 12.81 39.21 -26.40

In fact, throughout their 75-year history as a Test-playing nation, New Zealand have struggled to produce really prolific batsmen. Martin Crowe, Glenn Turner, Andrew Jones and Bert Sutcliffe were all high-class performers, but none of them finished their careers with a Test average above 50, the usual benchmark to separate the outstanding batsmen from the merely very good. (At least one of them would probably have crossed that barrier, though, had it not been for a wretched start: Crowe's average after his first 17 Tests was 24.88; in his last 60 matches, it rocketed to 51.31.)

Among those who appeared in at least ten Tests, only Stewie Dempster, the opener who played in the early 1930s, makes the cut. He played just ten games, but had outstanding stats - 723 runs at 65.72, including an exceptional tour of England in 1931. Next in the averages list is Mark Richardson (47.94), and there are only seven others who average 40 or more.

Tests Runs Avge
Stewie Dempster 10 723 65.72
Mark Richardson 34 2685 47.94
John F Reid 19 1296 46.28
Martin Crowe 77 5444 45.36
Glenn Turner 41 2991 44.64

Contrast that with some of the other teams - of the 41 batsmen with a 50-plus average (minimum qualification: 10 Tests), England have 11, Australia 10 - including three in the current squad - West Indies seven, and South Africa and India five apiece. Pakistan have just one - Javed Miandad - while Sri Lanka have none, but both have players within touching distance: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana and Yasir Hameed all average 49 or more, as do Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

A reason often touted for the New Zealanders' relative lack of runs is the bowler-friendly conditions at home, which deny their batsmen runscoring opportunities that are available at home for players from other countries. That might be true for the odd season, but it doesn't explain the phenomenon as a whole: New Zealand's batsmen have generally performed better at home: three of them - McMillan, Reid and Crowe - average more than 50 at home, while Mathew Sinclair (49.86) is almost there as well. Among the current lot, Stephen Fleming is the one batsman whose stats are skewed hugely the other way - he averages 33 at home but 45 away. Scott Styris has an overseas bias too (40 at home, 45 away), but he has only played seven Tests in New Zealand.

A tough act to follow
What should the South African bowlers do to emulate the success that the Australian seamers had against India's top order? The answer's fairly obvious, but as the numbers below will show, it's the implementation which is the hard part. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz bowled 1366 deliveries to the right-handers, and 1285 of them pitched on middle stump or further off side - that's an incredible 94%. For McGrath, that percentage was a mind-boggling 98%. (The numbers when they bowled to left-handers would obviously not look as impressive as a right-arm bowler, bowling from over the wicket, would generally pitch it around leg stump, with the angle ensuring that it reached the batsman around off.)

The other aspect of the Aussies' cricket that received widespread praise was the field-placing. VVS Laxman almost always had two fielders at midwicket, and a ring of three in the covers. The result: he managed only six runs against the three seamers through midwicket - that's 7.50% of the total runs he scored against them. In the 2003-04 series in Australia, that percentage had been more than 16. Similarly, only 17% of his runs came through cover, down from 22% in the previous series. As much as 31% of his runs came through third man - in 2003-04 it was only 13.50% - which obviously meant that the slip and gully fielders were in the game more often.

For the South Africans, Shaun Pollock can be expected to show the same McGrathesque accuracy, though at a lesser pace. The question is, can he find the support that McGrath had?

Aust seamers v India
right-handers
Outside off Off & middle Leg/outside leg
Glenn McGrath 466 25 11
Jason Gillespie 413 36 44
Michael Kasprowicz 311 34 26
Total 1190 95 81

Clarke's golden arm
That Michael Clarke would wow the world with his batting prowess on the tour to India was always on the cards; what wasn't quite as expected was that he'd turn his left arm over with such devastating effect. Clarke's 6 for 9 - aided, admittedly, by a disgraceful Wankhede Stadium pitch - is the sixth-most economical five-for in Test cricket. The last bowler to get one of those was Jermaine Lawson, but that happened against the hapless Bangladesh side. To find out the last instance before that one, you'd have to go back 56 years, when Ernie Toshack demolished India - yet again - taking 5 for 2 at the Gabba.

Spell Match Venue & year
Ernie Toshack 5 for 2 Aust v India Brisbane, 1947-48
Jermaine Lawson 6 for 3 WI v B'desh Dhaka, 2002-03
Bert Ironmonger 5 for 6 Aust v SA Melbourne, 1931-32
George Lohmann 8 for 7 Eng v SA Port Elizabeth, 1895-96
Arthur Gilligan 6 for 7 Eng v SA Edgbaston, 1924
Michael Clarke 6 for 9 Aust v India Mumbai, 2004-05

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.