Scott Styris has been outstanding with both bat and ball during the middle overs in the World Cup © Getty Images

Most of the excitement in one-day internationals often centre around the start of an innings - when the Powerplays are on and hitting over the top is par for the course - or the end, when, provided there are wickets in hand, batsmen have the license to take all kinds of risks. The middle overs aren't as thrilling, but how teams go about the unglamorous task of gathering the runs during this period often shapes the course of matches. With the pitches in the World Cup not always conducive to extravagant strokeplay against the new ball, the middle passage has often been the deciding factor. The Numbers Game runs the rule over the Super Eight teams' performances with both bat and ball during this phase in the World Cup.

Interestingly, the four top teams during the middle overs are the sides which look most likely to progress to the semi-finals. Despite Stephen Fleming's consistent displays, New Zealand's openers haven't always given them a solid start - Lou Vincent's absence is surely a factor here - but their middle order, led by Scott Styris, has ensured that they've always made up the lost ground. Not only have New Zealand kept their wickets in tact between overs 20 and 40, they've also scored at more than a run a ball, ensuring that the launching pad is firmly in place for the lower order to come and biff away.

The numbers are somewhat similar for Australia and Sri Lanka, but as you go further down the table, they don't look quite so good. One of the reasons why England have a struggle on their hands to go further in the tournament is their lacklustre performance during the crucial middle overs - against Sri Lanka on April 4, they slumped from a healthy 84 for 2 after 20 overs to 159 for 6 after 40: that's 75 for 4 in that 20-over period. The gulf between the top four teams and the rest is huge here, a fact which is reflected in the points table as well.

Best batting teams in the middle overs in the World Cup (between 20-40)
Team Balls/ runs Wickets Average Scoring rate
New Zealand 534/ 552 4 138.00 6.20
Australia 483/ 512 6 85.33 6.36
Sri Lanka 724/ 651 8 81.37 5.40
South Africa 450/ 522 9 58.00 6.96
West Indies 709/ 551 15 36.73 4.66
England 561/ 376 13 28.92 4.02
Bangladesh 355/ 224 9 24.88 3.79
Ireland 574/ 378 19 19.89 3.95

Jacques Kallis has done the job with his usual solidity for South Africa - though the runs didn't come at the rate they should have against Australia - while Scott Styris, Ricky Ponting, Chamara Silva and Mahela Jayawardene have shone as well. Shivnarine Chanderpaul hasn't been dismissed during this period, while Brian Lara has done pretty well too (149 runs in 191 balls, dismissed twice), but none of the other West Indians have offered much support - Ramnaresh Sarwan has been out five times, scoring only 83 runs in the middle overs.

Best batsmen in the middle overs (at least 100 runs between overs 20-40)
Batsman Balls/ runs off the bat Dismissals Average Scoring rate
Jacques Kallis 193/ 191 0 - 5.93
Chamara Silva 110/ 85 0 - 4.63
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 114/ 86 0 - 4.52
Scott Styris 185/ 182 1 182.00 5.90
Ricky Ponting 123/ 143 1 143.00 6.97
Mahela Jayawardene 214/ 192 2 96.00 5.38
Paul Collingwood 146/ 101 2 50.50 4.15

With the ball too, the same four teams occupy the top slots, with New Zealand and Sri Lanka especially impressive. Their ability to take wickets in the middle overs has automatically meant that rival batsmen don't score much during this period either. Take a look at Ireland's numbers too - their bowlers have been far more effective than those from England and West Indies. Surprisingly, Bangladesh's battery of left-arm spinners haven't had much impact after their stunning upset of India.

Best bowling teams in the middle overs in the World Cup (between 20-40)
Team Balls/ runs Wickets Average Economy rate
Sri Lanka 611/ 415 20 20.75 4.08
New Zealand 606/ 405 18 22.50 4.10
Australia 413/ 347 13 26.69 5.04
South Africa 571/ 438 12 36.50 4.60
Ireland 540/ 378 10 37.80 4.20
England 605/ 481 9 53.44 4.77
West Indies 720/ 585 10 58.50 4.87
Bangladesh 302/ 277 4 69.25 5.50

Not only has Styris been the star with the bat during the middle overs, he's also been outstanding with the ball - his eight wickets in the tournament have come at an impressive 15.50 apiece, while his wickets between the 20th and 40th overs have cost even fewer runs. Shane Bond, meanwhile, has perfected the art of breaking through right away in his second spell.

Sri Lanka's go-to man, Muttiah Muralitharan, hasn't disappointed either and his combination with Sanath Jayasuriya (four wickets at 26.50 and 3.69 per over) has made the Sri Lankans an equally difficult proposition in the middle overs.

Best bowlers in the middle overs (at least 50 balls bowled between overs 20-40)
Bowler Balls/ runs off the bat Dismissals Average Economy rate
Shane Bond 54/ 26 5 5.20 2.88
Scott Styris 145/ 73 6 12.16 3.02
Charl Langeveldt 72/ 54 4 13.50 4.50
Andrew Flintoff 55/ 29 2 14.50 3.16
Muttiah Muralitharan 214/ 131 8 16.37 3.67
Brad Hogg 149/ 117 7 16.71 4.71

The table below looks at the break-up of wickets for the best bowler in the World Cup - with eight wickets at 10.50, conceding 2.29 runs per over, Bond heads the list of averages and economy rates for the tournament so far. He has beaten the bat on numerous occasions in his spells with the new ball, but the wickets have only come in his second and third spells: in 120 deliveries with the new ball, he has only managed the wicket of Chanderpaul, though his economy rate of 1.55 in the first 20 overs clearly indicates just how cautiously the batsmen have played him.

Bond's break-up of wickets in the 2007 World Cup
Overs Balls/ Runs off the bat Wickets Average Economy rate
0-20 120/ 31 1 31.00 1.55
21-40 54/ 26 5 5.20 2.88
41-50 46/ 22 2 11.00 2.86

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.