Playing against Bangladesh in an Asia Cup match in June last year, Pakistan's lower middle order gave a fearful demonstration of the amount of havoc they could wreck in the last ten overs of a one-day innings. At the end of 40 overs, Pakistan had already reached an imposing total of 256 for 4, but even so, Bangladesh wouldn't have been prepared for what hit them next. Shahid Afridi was already going strong, and he completely destroyed Bangladesh's bowlers in the last ten. One-hundred-and-twenty-nine runs were scored in 60 balls, of which Afridi's contribution was 73 off 24, while Abdul Razzaq managed a mere 21 from nine. Pakistan finished with an untouchable score of 385, and the contest was effectively over.
That match was just one example of how much damage can be caused in the last ten overs, and with the World Cup now less than a month away, teams have been honing up their final acts with both bat and ball, trying to find the perfect players to bat and bowl in the last ten, especially in the subcontinent, where the short boundaries and quick outfields can make the experience especially nightmarish for bowlers. Here's a look at the batsmen and bowlers - and the teams - that have best handled the pressures of the last ten overs in ODIs over the last couple of years.
Pakistan aren't among the favourites for the World Cup, but with Afridi and Razzaq in their ranks, their slog-over batting is an aspect that any bowling attack will be wary of. Not surprisingly, Afridi and Razzaq are among the most destructive batsmen in the last ten overs over the last couple of years. Afridi has an incredible strike rate of 10.38 runs per over, with 23 fours and ten sixes in 119 deliveries. The good thing, from the bowlers' point of view, is the fact that he has been dismissed 13 times in those 119 balls, which works out to an average of about nine balls per dismissal.
With Razzaq, the torture for bowlers is only slightly less severe, but much more prolonged: he scores at 9.18 runs to the over, and lasts 24 balls per dismissal, scoring about 37 runs in those balls. His recent form in ODIs has been quite scary: less than three months ago, he smashed South Africa's bowling attack to the tune of 109 off 72 balls in what was a matchwinning knock. He was especially destructive in the last ten overs, scoring 75 off 36 balls.
Among the others in the top ten, in terms of scoring rate, is South Africa's Albie Morkel. He has done pretty well in the last ten, but finds himself omitted from the squad for the World Cup. South Africa have two others - JP Duminy and AB de Villiers - in the top ten, while Australia have two. India don't have any, but Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni come close, with run rates of 7.76 and 7.12. Sri Lanka have lacked an explosive finisher for a few years now, and that is reflected in the fact that they don't figure in the top ten either.
Among the bowlers there are plenty of spinners at the top, which is perhaps slightly surprising, but also a hint to captains that lack of pace might be a good option in the last ten overs, especially in the subcontinent. Ray Price and Proper Utseya have also prospered because they've played plenty of games against lesser opposition, and while the same reason might partially explain the successes of Abdur Razzak and Shakib Al Hasan, there's no doubt that Bangladesh's spinners will be quite difficult to get away in home conditions during any part of the innings.
Harbhajan Singh doesn't make the 200-ball cut, but he has an excellent economy rate of 6.16, conceding only 183 run in 178 balls. The spinner who deserves a special mention, though, is Daniel Vettori: in the 163 balls he has bowled, Vettori has conceded conceded 130 runs and taken 12 wickets, for an average of 10.83 and an economy rate of 4.78.
Among the fast bowlers, Shane Watson has done pretty well, as has Ishant Sharma, though Ishant's form in 2010 has done little to inspire confidence - the numbers below are a reflection of his performances in 2009. Zaheer Khan and Dale Steyn, the leaders of the bowling attacks for India and South Africa, have near-identical economy rates of almost seven runs per over.
In terms of overall team-wise stats, though, Australia and South Africa are the teams with the highest positive difference between batting and bowling run-rates. Australia have been struggling as a Test team, but in ODIs they've put up some good numbers, and have been excellent with both bat and ball in the last ten. Michael Hussey has scored the most runs of all players in the last ten, with 686 runs at an average of 34.30 and a run-rate of 7.81 per over. James Hopes is next in terms of runs scored, with 512 from 407 balls. Watson, meanwhile has been superb with the ball in terms of taking wickets and keeping down the runs, while Mitchell Johnson is the second-highest wicket-taker in the last ten with 22, at an economy rate of 7.15.
The presence of West Indies at No.3 in terms of difference between batting and bowling run-rates is more surprising, though. Some of it is because of an extremely low-scoring series against Zimbabwe in 2010, when the visitors struggled to put runs on the board. However, West Indies have had their moments in the final overs in ODIs, twice adding 98 in the last ten - against Bangladesh in 2009 and against South Africa in 2010, both in Rosseau. However, on both occasions, they didn't play such smart cricket through the rest of the match and ended up losing the games.
On the other hand, Bangladesh have struggled in the last ten, conceding one run per over more than they score. The two highest totals in the last ten overs since the beginning of 2009 have both come against them - Pakistan scored 129 in that Asia Cup game mentioned in the beginning of this piece, while New Zealand slammed 130 in Napier in February 2010.
And the next table presents the same stats as discussed above, but only in first innings of ODIs. The numbers in second innings are often skewed by the targets that teams are chasing - a team might not push the accelerator in the last ten when they know that the target is well within reach. Hence, first-innings numbers sometimes offer a better indication of a team's batting and bowling abilities in the last ten.
There's a bit of a shake-up here, with England moving much higher, to No.3, while Australia slip to fifth place. India, though, remain near the bottom, which suggests it's an area the team will have to look at when they plan for the World Cup.