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Numbers Game

The new and improved Ntini

Makhaya Ntini has shown over the last 15 months that he can crank it up against the best batsmen in the world, while Pakistan's ability to come back from the dead was confirmed at Kandy

S Rajesh
S Rajesh

With 75 wickets in his last 15 Tests, Makhaya Ntini is clearly the biggest strike force for South Africa © Getty Images
His sheer pace, bustling action and boundless energy had marked him as a player to watch out for, but for more than six years Mahkaya Ntini struggled to make the leap from a good bowler to one who could wreck the best batting line-ups consistently. Over the last year and a bit, though, he finally seems to be putting it all together and breaking out of the immense shadows cast by Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock.
In the recently concluded three-Test series against Australia, Ntini was easily the standout bowler for South Africa. None of the Australian top order dominated him, and he was a threat every time he ran in with ball in hand. Apart from delivering that deadly bouncer which made Justin Langer's 100th Test a one-ball affair at the crease, Ntini was also quite lethal in his wicket-taking abilities. He finished the series with 19 victims at 22.36; the next best for South Africa was Jacques Kallis with less than half the number of wickets (7) and averaging ten more runs per wicket.
A good measure of a player's ability is his performances against the top sides, and Ntini has, over the last 15 months, clearly relished the opportunity to test himself against the best: his last five Tests have been against Australia - two overseas and three at home - and Ntini has grabbed 28 wickets at 24.61; in his four previous matches against them, he had just 11 wickets at 48.73 per wicket.
Ntini versus Australia
Wickets Average 5I/ 10M
First four Tests 11 48.73 0/ 0
Last five Tests 28 24.61 2/ 1
Apart from Langer, the one batsman who will have nightmares about facing up to Ntini is Matthew Hayden. At the non-striker's end when Langer was felled, Hayden didn't fare too well when he had to face up to him: in the 234 deliveries he played from Ntini over ten innings in the last five months, Hayden was dismissed an astonishing seven times, making Ntini the most successful bowler against Hayden. It was a complete reversal in fortunes for them: the two had played each other in four Tests in 2001-02, and in 150 balls, Ntini had gone for 80 runs without dismissing Hayden even once. As the table below indicates, only Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting averaged more than 40 against him in the two recent series; the rest have all had a tough time.
Ntini against top Aus batsmen in last 5 months
Batsman Runs Balls/ Dismissals Average
Adam Gilchrist 10 28/ 2 5.00
Matthew Hayden 123 234/ 7 17.57
Damien Martyn 42 73/ 2 21.00
Justin Langer 77 130/ 2 38.50
Ricky Ponting 136 174/ 3 45.33
Mike Hussey 112 188/ 2 56.00
Since December 2004, Ntini has been South Africa's leading bowler, and among the top five in the world. With Pollock clearly on the decline - he averages 37 during this period, and conceded more than 50 per wicket in each of the two series against Australia - Ntini has taken over as the spearhead of the pack.
Best bowlers since Dec 2004 (Qual: 50 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5I/ 10M
Muttiah Muralitharan 12 79 18.54 7/ 1
Glenn McGrath 16 79 20.69 4/ 0
Shane Warne 21 122 23.72 7/ 2
Matthew Hoggard 18 80 24.44 4/ 1
Makhaya Ntini 15 75 24.58 4/ 2
Coming back from the dead
As a one-day side, Pakistan's fortunes have ebbed and flowed recently, but as a Test side, they've been climbing the rungs incessantly over the last one year. Since being drubbed 3-0 in Australia in 2004-05, they have achieved some highly creditable results - a drawn series against the odds in India, and then successive wins against England, India and Sri Lanka, giving them a rare hat-trick of series wins against non-minnow opposition.
Apart from Australia - and England, over the last couple of years - teams have struggled to string together successive series wins against the top sides. The last time Pakistan did the three-in-a-row trick was more than ten years ago, when they recorded a memorable 1-0 victory against Australia after winning away series in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In the last ten years, the only other team which has managed this feat is South Africa, who beat New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies and India in 2001-02.
Pakistan also did the unexpected in turning around a match which, at the halfway stage, seemed to be in Sri Lanka's pocket. A first-innings lead of 109 on a pitch favouring bowlers should have been a decisive lead; instead, it acted as the spur for Pakistan to mount a fierce fightback, to which the home team had no response. It was the 39th time in Test cricket that a team had turned around a deficit of more than 100 and gone on to win, but only the fifth such instance for Pakistan.
Turning 100-plus deficits/ leads into wins/ defeats
Team No. of wins after trailing
by more than 100
No. of defeats after leading
by more than 100
England 13 5
Australia 10 11
Pakistan 5 3
South Africa 5 8
India 3 0
West Indies 1 3
New Zealand 1 4
Sri Lanka 1 4
Bangladesh 0 1
The table above indicates that England have done the Houdini act more often than any other team, but of late, that honour clearly belongs to Pakistan. Out of the ten instances of such wins since 2000, Pakistan figure in four of them, the previous one being only seven Tests before the Kandy one, when England squandered a mammoth lead of 144 to eventually lose by 22 runs at Multan.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan.