New Zealand wouldn't top anyone's list of favourites for the Champions Trophy, but they have one bowling weapon that all opposition line-ups will be wary of. Shane Bond is back in action, and even on flat Indian pitches, he could be a handful for some of the best batsmen in the world.
Constant injuries have seriously hampered Bond's international career, but his stats show just how potent a force he is: among bowlers with at least 75 ODI wickets, no-one has a better average than his 18.63. His team-wise numbers indicate he isn't just a minnow-basher either: against the best team in the world Bond has 22 wickets from six games at a phenomenal average of 10.45, and only against South Africa and West Indies does his average go past 30. (Incidentally New Zealand open their Champions Trophy campaign against South Africa, so Bond will get an opportunity to rectify that blip as well.)
In a line-up that otherwise consists mainly of bowlers who specialise in keeping the runs in check, Bond provides the firepower that is so critical to a good one-day side. Among bowlers who've bowled at least 2000 balls, Bond's strike-rate of a wicket every 26.5 balls is the best, even better than the likes of Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Allan Donald.
Where Bond is most likely to make a difference is at the start of the innings, when he is armed with the new ball. When he isn't around, opposition opening batsmen can expect to ease themselves into their stride against medium-fast bowlers, but Bond's presence significantly increases New Zealand's chances of getting that first breakthrough early - when he isn't around, the average opening partnership goes up by as much as 48%.
And here's another stat that indicates just how vital Bond is to the New Zealand attack: three-quarters of all his wickets consist of top-order batsmen, a figure that is higher than the corresponding percentages for McGrath, Lee and Shoaib. That number is slightly skewed, though, by the fact that Australia dismiss teams more often than New Zealand, giving McGrath and Lee more opportunities to have a crack at the tail than the New Zealand bowlers.
With Bond in the line-up New Zealand's win percentage goes up by seven percentage points, but the table above also indicates just how scarce a commodity Bond has been - during his 45-match career, he has missed 67 ODIs. Should he turn up fit for New Zealand's first match of the Champions Trophy, it will be the first time he'll have turned up for ten consecutive ODIs for the side. He has currently played nine games in a row, being part of the entire home series against Sri Lanka and West Indies. The only other time he played so many ODIs without missing one was during the 2003 World Cup. (Click here for a list of matches New Zealand have played - with and without Bond - since he made his debut.)
Giving the dew its due
In his column on October 12, Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, mentioned that the dew factor in day-night games could be a decisive factor during the ongoing Champions Trophy, and that teams batting second would have a huge advantage. In the qualifying matches Sri Lanka twice won their games after batting first, but that can easily be explained away by citing the gulf in class between the teams. What about situations when the sides are more closely matched - will the dew factor, and hence the toss, prove to be decisive?
The numbers clearly indicate that of late, batting under lights is the way to go when playing in India. In the last couple of seasons (excluding the four matches in this tournament), all six day-night matches - each, incidentally, between two fairly well-matched sides - went in favour of the team chasing the target. On five of those six occasions, the captain winning the toss put the opposition in to bat, and each time, the decision was justified by the result.
Also, interestingly, this chase-and-win trend in India is a recent one. In the six previous day-night matches, all of which were played in 2003-04, the flavour of the season was to bat first and win - five of those matches went against the side that chased under lights, suggesting that the dew factor and its repercussions are only recent developments. In 23 day-night games in India since 2000, the team batting second only has a 12-11 edge.