Opening dilemmas for Pakistan and New Zealand
The Test series between New Zealand and Pakistan has been a fascinating one for several reasons - conditions that had something in them for the bowlers, a fast bowler who returned to the Test fold after several years, a debutant who oozed class, and a Test match that went down to the wire. The series is also fascinating for something that's not quite as complimentary - the opening batting woes for both teams.
New Zealand's victory in the Dunedin Test glossed over the fact that they have some very serious problems to sort at the top of their order - the opening pair of Martin Guptill and Tim McIntosh added exactly zero runs in that match, and lasted precisely five deliveries in the two innings combined. New Zealand have historically had problems with their opening combination for a while now (since Mark Richardson retired, actually), but only once before have they sunk this low - against England at Edgbaston a decade earlier, they opened with Roger Twose and Matt Horne, and found themselves a wicket down in the first over of both innings without a run on the board.
Pakistan's plight wasn't as bad - though they've faced that ignominy four times in their Test history - but they weren't much better, with Khurram Manzoor and Imran Farhat putting together partnerships of 11 and 4.
New Zealand have stuck to the same pair for the second Test, but Pakistan have gone ahead and done what they do better than any other side - change the opening combination. The move paid off too in the first innings, with Farhat and Salman Butt staying together for more than 32 overs in testing conditions in Wellington. The pair have a mixed record in the nine innings in which they've batted together, but the fact that they've been paired up so many times is itself a bit of a surprise - since 2000, Pakistan have tried 41 different combinations to open in 146 innings, a shocking average of 3.56 innings per pair.
New Zealand are only slightly better. Leave aside Bangladesh, and their innings-per-pair number is the next lowest for the decade, with 29 different combinations being tried out to bat in 141 innings.
Pakistan's opening combinations have handled these upheavals at the top of the order much better than the New Zealanders, though: they average 37.86 per partnership, which is significantly higher than New Zealand's 29.28. Pakistan's stats, however, have been slightly propped up due to the runs scored against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - three out of 10 century stands have come against them. Exclude those two teams and the numbers are closer together - an average of 36.03 for Pakistan, and 30.40 for New Zealand. The top spot changes hands too, with Australia overtaking South Africa, who have five of their 22 century stands against them.
|Team||No. of pairs||Inngs||Average p'ship||100/ 50 stands||Inngs per pair|
|South Africa||18||188||51.32||22/ 41||10.44|
|Sri Lanka||22||168||35.56||12/ 27||7.64|
|West Indies||25||193||35.28||13/ 34||7.72|
|New Zealand||29||141||29.28||6/ 17||4.86|
England and Australia have been the most stable teams of the lot. England have four pairs who've combined in 30 or more innings, with the current pair of Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss opening in 63 innings. Australia were well served by Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, with no other pair opening together for more than 25 innings during this decade.
The stats for Pakistan are a huge contrast to those two teams. The most that any pair has played together is 15 innings. Farhat and Taufeeq Umar did well during their association, averaging more than 50 and achieving a hat-trick of century stands against South Africa. Most of their success, though, came at home. Salman Butt had reasonable success with Yasir Hameed, their high point being a 102-run stand against Australia in Sydney. Saleem Elahi and Taufeeq had four half-century stands, but they opened together only eight times.
|Pair||Innings||Runs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|Imran Farhat-Taufeeq Umar||15||754||50.26||3/ 1|
|Salman Butt-Yasir Hameed||8||373||46.62||1/ 2|
|Saleem Elahi-Taufeeq Umar||8||300||42.85||0/ 4|
|Imran Farhat-Salman Butt||9||319||35.44||1/ 2|
|Imran Farhat-Mohammad Hafeez||13||377||31.41||0/ 1|
Similarly, New Zealand too have five pairs who've opened in eight or more innings. Richardson and Bell averaged 65.50, with four 50-plus stands in eight innings, but Richardson's longest association was with Lou Vincent - they opened in 19 innings and averaged more than 41. The current pair of Guptill and McIntosh doesn't inspire much confidence, though - in 10 innings the highest they've managed is 45, and their average is a mediocre 18.40. The Dunedin Test was their lowest point; from New Zealand's point of view, the Wellington Test will hopefully see them in a completely different light.
|Pair||Innings||Runs||Average||100/ 50 stands|
|Matthew Bell-Mark Richardson||8||524||65.50||2/ 2|
|Mark Richardson-Lou Vincent||19||745||41.38||2/ 2|
|Matt Horne-Mark Richardson||12||320||26.66||1/ 1|
|Jamie How-Aaron Redmond||14||373||26.64||0/ 2|
|Martin Guptill-Tim McIntosh||10||184||18.40||0/ 0|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo