The Numbers Game
2523, 2324, 2526, 337, 16.8, 58, 128, 126. Statistics, cricket is littered with them. As a sport it is almost unique in the degree to which statistics play a part in the general watching and playing of the game. Everything is recorded: runs, balls faced, time taken, catches taken, sixes hit, wickets taken, maidens bowled. These figures could be recalled not just for a match but for someone’s entire career.
What do these statistics mean? 2523, 2524, 2526: These are possibly three of the most significant matches in South African cricket history. The first is the final match of the recent South Africa v Pakistan ODI series, the next two are the first two matches of the Australia v New Zealand Chappell Hadlee trophy.
337: The number of runs New Zealand scored to win the 2nd Chappell Hadlee match and take the series with one match to spare. It is the second highest ODI chase of all time.
16.8: Shaun Pollock’s bowling average over his past 6 matches.
58: Glenn McGrath’s bowling average of his past 6 matches.
128: South Africa’s rating points standing in the LG ODI world rankings.
126: Number of rating points Australia have in the LG ODI world rankings.
For the first time in the history of the rankings system, a statistical wonder of its own, Australia has been knocked off the number one spot. South Africa had done all they could by securing a win over Pakistan in their final match but they relied on an unlikely Australia series loss to New Zealand.
But are South Africa really number one? It is true to say they have managed to give Australia a run for their money just recently. When Australia posted the then world record 434 in an ODI at Johannesburg last March, most people would have said the game was as good as won. Most people except the South Africans that is, who clinched a second to last ball, one wicket thriller against all the odds. South Africa even won the series 3-2.
But look further back by just a few months when South Africa played the VB tri series down under against Australia and Sri Lanka and the Proteas failed to register a single victory against their hosts and finished with a below par net run rate of -0.81.
The bowling averages given for McGrath and Pollock perhaps show how much the teams rely on a few key players to perform. McGrath has been such a key player for Australia for many years that it is hard to imagine life without him. His metronomic action and pinpoint accuracy that he has held throughout his career have enabled him to dry up the scoring at one end. In a limited overs format where run rate is essential this has meant that the batsmen have had to take risks to up the ante, either against McGrath or the bowler at the other end.
McGrath however, has no outright pace to boast like Brett Lee, meaning that when his accuracy fails he becomes just another medium pacer. It sounds almost blasphemous to say so but removing reputations alone, would you feel comfortable bowling someone who bowls in the high 70s with accuracy you cannot rely on.
Those ever present statistics tell the story on their own, in the past six matches; McGrath has taken 5 wickets at 58 with an economy rate of 5.2. Compared to his career figures of 355 wickets at 22.62 with an economy of 3.85 runs per over, the difference is striking.
South Africa on the other hand have found fortune in the fact that Shaun Pollock, their metronomic accurate seamer has found a rich vein of form of late. Over the same last 6 match period, his bowling average is almost seven runs-per-wicket lower than his career average and his economy rate is 3.08 compared to a career figure of 3.71. They say it’s a batsman’s game, and they may be right but bowlers today still have a very significant role to play.
Excluding the Champions Trophy, Australia has lost 3 out of their past 4 ODI series with their only win coming against Bangladesh. South Africa on the other hand has won all of their last four. On these figures Australia don’t deserve the top spot they are not worthy of the world championship if that carries on. But in my mind, they are still the best team in the world.
Picture the situation, your life depends on it. Your team wins you’re safe. Your team loses you’re gone. Who would you want playing for you? It would be Australia for me without hesitation. There is something about the Australian team. They step up to the mark when it really matters. When the Champions trophy came around in October, Australia hadn’t played a match since their tour of Bangladesh early in the year. But faced with a tournament they’d never won, the only empty space in their trophy cabinet, they fought, and they fought hard to win. Australia are still world beaters, they’ve just shown that they, like all others are mortal.