The master stonewaller
May 28, 2004
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:
The king of stodge
An earlier column had already pointed out Richardson's ability to get starts: for any batsman, and especially an opener, the early part of his innings is a period when he is at his most vulnerable – the ball is new and hard, the bowler fresh and charged up, and the pitch often at its liveliest. Richardson tends to survive that period better than most – only 18% of his innings (10 out of 55) have resulted in sub-10 scores. Also, only twice has his average in any series (excluding one-off Tests) slipped into the 20s, an indication that through almost four years of international cricket he has never suffered a major slump. (Click here for Richardson's series-wise averages.)
Richardson's most vital contribution to the team, though, has been his ability to bat on almost interminably, often completely oblivious to long runless periods, allowing the strokeplayers in the New Zealand line-up to express themselves freely, secure in the knowledge that the other end is in safe hands. Richardson is an opener from the old school – an average innings by Richardson lasts nearly three hours and consumes 129 balls. Give Virender Sehwag those many deliveries and he, given his current strike rate of nearly 75, would have amassed 94.
Richardson has often been compared to John Wright, New Zealand's opener in the 1980s. Wright scored his runs at the rate of less than 36 per 100 balls while Richardson gets them at a shade over 37, but where Richardson scores significantly over Wright is in terms of averages (48.27 to 37.83).
Here's a list that proves indisputably that Richardson is among the elite stonewallers of the game over the last 25 years. A look at Tests played since 1980 (Out of 797 matches, data on balls faced was not available for 36 matches. The numbers below exclude those Tests) reveals that among batsmen who've played at least 20 Tests and average more than 35, Richardson faces the maximum number of deliveries per Test – his 210 balls per match is seven more than the number of deliveries faced by the man generally recognised as the last word in stodgy, defensive batsmanship, Geoffrey Boycott. Not bad at all for a player who started his career bowling left-arm spin and batting at No. 11.
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Cruising home in fourth-innings
Also, since 2000, teams have won 43% of the matches when confronted with such targets, which is easily the highest for the last six decades except in the 1980s. The `80s, though, was a one-team show: West Indies accounted for six of those 11 wins.
Recently, New Zealand have been at the receiving end: the Lord's defeat was their second in a row when trying to defend a target of over 200 – South Africa chased down 234 to win the final Test of the 2003-04 series at Wellington. And just three matches before that one, Pakistan coasted to 277 for 3 to wrap up the series at the same venue. If their rivals across the Tasman have traditionally struggled to chase low fourth-innings targets, then New Zealand, it would seem, are building a reputation of being poor fourth-innings defenders.