The Friday column May 19, 2006

India's amazing middle order

The key to India's wins in run-chases has been the manner in which their middle order has reacted to the pressures of getting to a target

Mahendra Singh Dhoni - one of the batsmen who has had a huge impact in boosting the Indian middle order © Getty Images

It wasn't the best run-chase that the Indians have put together in the last nine months, but their latest triumph - against West Indies at Kingston in the first ODI of the five-match series - means that they have now won 17 consecutive times batting second, an outstanding achievement. The key to these wins, more often than not, has been the manner in which their middle order has reacted to the pressures of getting to a target. Despite Virender Sehwag's patchy form, India have had reasonable starts as well, but the most important partnerships have been for the third, fourth and fifth wickets: in 15 previous run-chases excluding the Kingston win, they averaged 144, 110 and 298 runs per dismissal.

The presence of Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan has given the Indian middle order a solid look, and with all of them firing so often, the team is no longer dependent on one or two players to see them home, a fact which has obviously improved the consistency. As the table below shows, India's average partnership for the middle order (combining the third, fourth, fifth and sixth wicket) in run-chases in ODIs since April 2005 is far better than all other teams.

Combined ave stand for the 3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th wicket in ODI run-chases
since April 2005
Team Average stand Strike rate
India 51.71 90.03
South Africa 44.68 82.48
Bangladesh 41.82 82.29
New Zealand 40.03 83.06
Australia 36.43 77.98
Pakistan 34.00 77.40
West Indies 29.47 77.54
Sri Lanka 27.70 77.54
England 26.00 77.05
Zimbabwe 25.50 NA

The numbers for the current Indian lot compare quite favourably with those of the past ten years. Between 1996 and 2000, the years when India had Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh as regulars in the middle order, they only averaged 31.54 (combined average for third, fourth, fifth and sixth wicket stands), while between April 2001 and March 2005 - the years when Sourav Ganguly and John Wright were at the helm - the number rose to 40.95. Not surprisingly, India only won 83 matches and lost 94 when batting second between 1996 and 2000, while between 2001 and March 2005 the record was 62 wins and 51 losses. The current lot have only been together for around a year and have to prove that they can sustain this level of performance over a longer period. But if they manage it, this could well be India's best middle order in one-day cricket.

Where boundaries are scarce
Think about cricket in the West Indies, and the image that comes to mind - along with revelry in the stands and big fast bowlers steaming in - is of Viv Richards and Brian Lara smashing the ball to all parts. Richards and Lara have managed the boundary-spanking exercise amazingly well, but for the lesser talents, the West Indies isn't such a great place to send the ball rocketing to the fence. Despite the relatively small grounds here, run-scoring in the Caribbean has predominantly been an exercise in running the ones, twos and threes.

Surprised? Check out the table below, which lists the percentage of runs scored in boundaries in ODIs in each region since 2000. Among the regular Test-playing sides, India is on top of the pile, with 47% of the runs coming in boundaries here (though in Kenya that figure is even higher, at 52%). West Indies languish at 40%, higher than only Australia and Sri Lanka. Like in Sri Lanka, the problem in the West Indies seems to be one of slow outfields, rather than large grounds. If the trend continues through the ongoing five-match series, India - traditionally poor runners between the wickets - will be thankful that they have in their ranks players like Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, and Suresh Raina, all of whom can be relied upon to hare down the wickets when the ball doesn't reach the fence.

% runs in boundaries in each country (ODIs since 2000)
In Total runs Boundary runs Percentage
India 30,994 14,790 47.72
New Zealand 25,983 12,036 46.32
South Africa 49,296 22,600 45.85
England 30,308 13,836 45.65
Bangladesh 17,943 8146 45.40
Pakistan 20,328 9110 44.82
Zimbabwe 26,670 11,648 43.67
Sharjah 18,649 7510 40.27
West Indies 20,920 8384 40.08
Sri Lanka 32,704 12,986 39.71
Australia 46,878 17,792 37.95

And a look at the teams with the highest boundary percentage reveals fairly expected results, with India topping the list with 43% - an outcome of playing most of their matches at home, and their general tendency to prefer boundaries to singles. Australia, South Africa and England are all clubbed close together at around 41%, and quite surprisingly ahead of Pakistan (40.92%). Include the non-Test-playing teams, and Canada tops the table with an incredible boundary percentage of 50.49 - 516 out of 1022. The problem with them has been they've been good at little else.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For the stats, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan.