Pretty good week for New Zealand sports fans huh? First The Warriors hold their nerve against the reigning premiers, then Alison Shanks wins gold in the individual pursuit… Now we’ve got the somewhat improbable spectre of India three down for 79 (no 23/3, but still…) with the small matter of 340 more runs between them and the follow on.
I don’t think any of us scripted a day like this against anyone this summer, let alone India, but this topsy turvy tour continues to delight in the endless surprises it throws up. Jesse Ryder is looking awfully like the kind of batsman oppositions grit their teeth and plan around at the start of a series. You know when you line up Australia and have to pencil 100 runs a test next to Ponting’s name – same goes for Pietersen, Chanderpaul, Smith and a few other batsmen round the world. Ryder’s now scored 768 runs in eight test matches, and looked extremely solid doing it, and maybe we’ve found the rock around which can anchor our batting. Even when Richardson was at his stolid best, or Fleming and Astle their most fluent, none ever strode to the crease with as much assuredness and force as Ryder is at the moment.
Not since Crowe have we had a bastman the opposition have to fear, to assume the worst about. We’ve got plenty of quality batsmen who can chip in from time to time, but Ryder’s something different again. It’s a little dissappointing that cricket doesn’t have an equivalent to baseball’s batting average (itself devised by a cricket statistician), arrived at by dividing runs scored by times at bat. If cricket gave you stats for combined 50s/100s divided by total innings you’d get a sense of how frequently a player hit a score of consequence. I get the feeling the most acclaimed batsmen of our time (amongst them more than a few of this current Indian side) would move even further ahead of much of our team. Maybe I’ll try and do a few this weekend.
In any case, the point is that a team with a player like that to anchor innings is infinitely better able to mount useful test match totals than one without. Almost every team in world cricket has one (though prior to Pieterson’s arrival England had gone a while without one, reflected in their miserable form through much of the ’90s and early 2000s), and in some ways our test performances throughout the past 20 years are more impressive given the lack of a batsman able to average over 50 and make regular, significant contributions.
Obviously it’s very early days – Ryder doesn’t have a statistically significant career yet, and has demons which may not always be as quiet as they’ve been this last couple of months. But the signs are fantastic, and a halcyon day like today, beautifully paced and displaying impressive concentration, should be appreciated as much for its potential implications as what was achieved.