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Stats Analysis

Stats - Defending champions New Zealand's sharp slide in a forgettable WTC cycle

Drawing a blank overseas, slumping pacers and wasting home advantage have left them at eighth out of nine teams in the points table

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
With just one series to go for them in the current cycle, it would be fair to say that New Zealand's defence of their World Test Championship crown has gone rather badly. They are currently languishing in eighth place out of nine teams; and in fact, their opponents in this last series, Sri Lanka, still have the chance of making the final if they win both Tests.
Under normal circumstances, you would scoff at the possibility of Sri Lanka winning two out of two Tests in New Zealand. After all, they have won only one out of nine Test series in New Zealand, and that victory came way back in 1995. In 19 Tests in the country spanning 40 years, Sri Lanka have won exactly two; now they need to double that tally in a couple of weeks to give themselves any chance of qualifying for the final. However, thanks to New Zealand's poor form in this cycle, Sri Lanka might fancy their chances of pulling off the improbable.
How did New Zealand fall so steeply from being champions in the last cycle to rank eighth in the current one? Here are the key numbers comparing their previous campaign to this entirely forgettable one.

No longer unbeatable at home

What should give Sri Lanka the greatest encouragement is the fact that New Zealand were beaten by Bangladesh in a home Test last year. They recovered to win the second Test and draw the series, but their eight-wicket defeat encapsulates their dismal defence of the WTC crown.
In six home Tests in the current cycle, New Zealand only have a 3-3 win-loss record, with drawn series against Bangladesh, South Africa and England. This includes the two Tests against England which isn't part of the WTC. Had England scored two more runs in that Wellington chase, New Zealand's home record would have been 2-4. That is a huge slide from the 2019-21 cycle, when they had a 7-0 winning record in eight Tests at home.

Drawing a blank overseas

In the 2019-21 cycle, New Zealand had a 3-4 win-loss record overseas. They were clean swept 3-0 in Australia, but won a Test in Sri Lanka and two in England, including the WTC final (Their 1-0 win in England in 2021 wasn't a part of the WTC).
Since that final, New Zealand haven't won any of their seven overseas Tests, though they came close twice in Pakistan. Their results in England illustrate their slump: in 2021 they triumphed 1-0, but a year later they had no answers to England's new-found aggression in a 3-0 series defeat. Surprisingly, since 2019, New Zealand have a 3-1 record against England in Tests which are not a part of the WTC, but 0-3 in Tests which are part of it.

The pace slump

Tim Southee took 70 wickets in 14 Tests at 21.2, Neil Wagner's 55 wickets came at 22.87, Kyle Jamieson took 46 wickets at an incredible 14.17 and Trent Boult's 46 wickets came at a slightly higher but still respectable average of 28.34. Together, New Zealand's famed pace attack led their march to the WTC title in 2021, taking 242 wickets in 16 matches - that's 15 per Test - at 24.16 (including the four Tests that weren't part of the WTC).
They were particularly impressive at home, but didn't do badly abroad either: Southee's 70 wickets included match hauls of 6 for 78 in Colombo, 9 for 162 in Perth and 7 for 80 at Lord's; Wagner took 17 wickets from three Tests in Australia at 22.76.
In the current cycle, though, Southee's form has gone south - 45 wickets at 37.11 - while the others haven't picked up the slack either. The absence of Boult and Jamieson hasn't helped, and all these factors have contributed in the pace average dropping by almost 35%. Even when New Zealand have played their best attack, opposition batters have still found a way: Bangladesh scored 458 in that famous Mount Maunganui victory against a New Zealand attack consisting of Southee, Boult, Jamieson and Wagner.

Batters waste home advantage

New Zealand's 7-0 home record in the 2019-21 cycle was built on solid contributions from their batters all the way down the order, from Tom Latham to Jamieson (226 runs at 56.5), Mitchell Santner (174 at 58) and even Wagner (117 at 39). Overall, their batters averaged 47.84 runs per wicket in eight home Tests (including the runs added through extras, that average goes up to 51.26.)
But in the last couple of years, that average has dropped quite significantly to 31.58. Their former captain and batting talisman Kane Williamson has had a relatively quiet period. He has played only seven of New Zealand's 13 Tests in this cycle, and just two out of six at home. Williamson has scored 557 runs at 46.41 in these 13 Tests, but 332 of those - 59.6% - came in two innings, including an unbeaten 200 in Karachi. Seven times he was dismissed before reaching 25.
However, in the previous WTC cycle, Williamson was the standout batter at home, scoring 895 runs at 99.44. Six other batters scored 200-plus runs at 40-plus averages. Add their pace-bowling strength at home, and it isn't difficult to see how New Zealand built the results they did. This time around, only Devon Conway and Tom Blundell have shown outstanding form at home. Latham's average of 41.7 is boosted by an innings of 252 against Bangladesh, as in seven out of ten innings, he has been dismissed under 20.
With the fast bowlers fading as well, the defending champions have fallen rather quickly from their pedestal. Thankfully for them, they have a chance to start afresh after this two-Test series against Sri Lanka.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats