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:

Irfan Pathan: a fat haul of 39 wickets in four Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh © Getty Images

After the giddy heights of the Ashes contests, cricket lovers the world over were subjected to two no-contests which, fortunately, occurred simultaneously and ended rather quickly. India's series in Zimbabwe was their first in that country since 2001, but Sri Lanka seem to be playing the minnows far too often - since 2002, eight of their 34 Tests have been against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh - that's one every four matches.

Of course, with the ICC drawing out their ten-year Test programme, it means that every team must play the other home and away once every five years. With that system in place, it should ensure that each side should get equal opportunities to play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but where Sri Lanka lose out (or gain, for these are huge opportunities for the players to boost their batting and bowling averages) is in the number of matches they play against other teams. Most top teams play Test series of three of more matches against the other top sides, and only two Tests per series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, tend to play two-Test series against a lot of other sides - their last series against West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia have all been two-Test affairs.

It's also interesting to see the percentages for some of the other teams: for Australia, 8.7%of their games have been against the minnows, while for England the figure is 12%, an indication of the number of four- or five-Test series they play against other teams.

These itineraries also mean that some of the Sri Lankan batsmen and bowlers have gained far more by means of easy runs and wickets than players from other teams. Muttiah Muralitharan, for instance, has taken 51 out of 181 wickets since 2002 against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at 11.73, Chaminda Vaas's 31 wickets against them have come at 20.81, and many of the batsmen have prospered as well: Mahela Jayawardene averages 57.60, Marvan Atapattu 101.50, Sanath Jayasuriya 81.38 and Kumar Sangakkara 69.71.

Tests by each team since 2002
Team Total Tests Tests v minnows Percentage
Sri Lanka 34 8 23.53
Pakistan 33 7 21.21
India 38 6 15.79
South Africa 41 6 14.63
West Indies 44 6 13.63
New Zealand 31 4 12.90
England 50 6 12.00
Australia 46 4 8.70

A left-arm seamer's dream?
Irfan Pathan must wish he could play against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe every day. The batsmen from both teams have been clueless against him, and it seems he had only to run in and swing it in to the right-hander to add to his wickets tally. Pathan now has 39 wickets in four Tests against them at 11.56; against other teams, his 27 wickets have come at 47.22. (Click here for Pathan's career summary.)

Some of the other left-armers have had a fair degree of success against these teams too, which begs the question: have left-arm seamers had far more success against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe than the right-armers?

A look at the stats since 2003 indicates that the left-arm fast bowlers have done better, but only marginally: their 86 wickets have come at 19.18, while the right-arm fast bowlers' 378 wickets have come at 21.40 apiece.

It also turns out that Vaas, the other left-arm fast bowler who consistently swings it into the right-handers, hasn't had such a great time against the minnows (though the stats look much better in the last three years). He has caused havoc against them in one-dayers (56 wickets at 16.73), but in 18 Tests, Vaas has only 55 Test scalps against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at a combined average of 28.60, which is slightly below his career average, and without a single five-for.

Bowlers v Bangladesh in Tests since 2003
Wickets Average Strike rate
Left-arm seamers 86 19.29 38.72
Right-arm seamers 378 21.40 45.35

The innings-defeat habit
And while the two recent two-Test series were predictably one-sided, Zimbabwe at least managed to avert an innings defeat in the second match, while Bangladesh slumped to two, taking their total such losses to a grand 24 out of 35. Even Zimbabwe haven't had such heavy defeats so regularly, with "only" 20 innings defeats in 48 matches.

Innings defeats for all teams
Team Total defeats Innings defeats Percentage
Bangladesh 35 24 68.57
Zimbabwe 48 20 41.67
Sri Lanka 58 24 41.38
New Zealand 128 40 31.25
Pakistan 82 23 29.05
South Africa 106 30 28.30
India 127 33 25.98
Australia 178 37 20.79
West Indies 130 27 20.77
England 241 49 20.33

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office.