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.
The finals factor
After thrashing India in the VB Series finals, among the first points Ricky Ponting made was to highlight the tendency of his players to lift their games a couple of notches for the big matches. "When the big games come around, the character of this side really stands up," he said. It may have been a deliberate attempt to rub salt into fresh Indian wounds, but it was also an accurate statement of the contrasting styles in which Australia and India have handled the crunch games.
As the table below indicates, the Indian top four have all put in below-par performances in finals of ODI competitions over the last five-and-a-half years, while Australia's batsmen have all managed to raise their game for the occasion. On an average, India's batting powerhouses, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Sehwag, contribute 34 fewer runs than they should according to their averages - a drop of 21% - while the Australians perform above potential by a whopping 42%. No wonder, then, that Australia have won 14 out of 16 finals
during that period, and India have lost 13 and won just two
It's not as if the Indian batsmen have never performed well in finals - Tendulkar's career average in ODI finals is 47.10, Ganguly's is 39.12. The problem is, most of the runs for both of them came early in the piece, after which there has been a prolonged drought in championship games.
Dissecting Tendulkar the one-day player
With hundreds against every team except Bangladesh, and runs scored in all conditions, it's difficult to pick holes in the career of Sachin Tendulkar the Test batsman. However, his one-day international record isn't quite as impeccable (though it's still highly acceptable by most standards): a high percentage of his runs, and his centuries, have come in the subcontinent, and while expectations from him sometimes reach ridiculous proportions, the truth is he hasn't quite saved his best for the most testing situations.
Tendulkar scores a century every seven matches in the subcontinent, a figure which slides down to 14 when playing elsewhere. He has been exceptional in guiding India to wins in low-scoring run-chases, but when the target in question is over 230, the numbers don't quite stack up as impressively: in 38 such matches since September 1998, Tendulkar has scored just one century (122 in a winning cause
against South Africa at Baroda), and his only unbeaten knock
in those games is an innings of 9, against England in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2002-03, when the opening pair of Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag had already accomplished the bulk of chasing down the 270-run target. Introduce another filter - chasing 230-plus targets outside the subcontinent - and the numbers drops off even more alarmingly: no centuries in the last 17 tries (though he did come agonisingly close in that breathtaking 98
against Pakistan in the World Cup), and an average of merely 25.
The day v day-night dilemma
In response to last week's column on day-night ODIs being unfair to the team chasing, a couple of readers made the valid observation that performances of each team in day games should also be taken into account before announcing that playing under lights was unjust. ("I would expect that teams batting first have a better win ratio in day games as well as it seems harder to chase on a sometimes wearing pitch," wrote a reader.) The numbers for day matches over the last three years were duly worked out, and the results are unexpectedly skewed: all teams except Australia and Pakistan do far better when chasing, thus suggesting that teams bowling first utilise the advantage of the freshness of the track in the morning, while batting becomes considerably easier in the afternoon.
The difference is especially significant for England, whose success percentage more than doubles when batting second. The contrast is also stark for West Indies, South Africa and, surprisingly, India, who many believe are better at setting a target than at chasing one.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.