Question: Name the current statistical world XI in the form of: best two openers; best four middle order batsmen; best wicketkeeper-batsman; best three seamers; and best spinner.
Spider says: To make a statistical XI for the past two years, the first thing to do is to have a minimum qualification in terms of number of matches played. For batsmen, I set the innings minimum at 15 over the last two years. Out of those, the highest averages belong to Matthew Hayden (average 49.04) and Graeme Smith (average 44.20). Virender Sehwag is close to Smith at third and with a higher strike-rate than either of the two openers (average 43.25), but he has also played less innings than either of them. So the openers have to be Hayden and Smith.
The middle order (three-four-five), as you'd expect, has a lot of stars, with Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Hussey and Mohammad Yousuf leading the way. Sangakkara in particular has a Bradmanesque average of 96.77, while Hussey and Yousuf are no bunnies with the bat either, following Sangakkara with averages of 86.18 and 76.59 respectively. There are several honourable mentions with averages of 65 or above, which include Mahela Jayawardene (average 71.39) and Ricky Ponting (65.81).
The number-six spot is the toughest, mainly because different countries use different types of player. Going by batting averages, there are only three choices (no one else has played the requisite number of innings), and the person leading the charts is Ian Bell, with an average of 55.61. But if we're going for a pure batsman, we might as well go with the one with the highest average in the middle order, which would be Jayawardene.
Number-seven will be our keeper, and perhaps rather surprisingly (certainly to me) the run charts are led by Matthew Prior with an average of 40 in 17 innings. Adam Gilchrist and Mahendra Dhoni are next with averages of 35 and 33 respectively.
Numbers eight to eleven are bowlers, with bowling averages being the deciding factor, and with a minimum of 300 overs bowled. Not surprisingly, the man leading the charts is Dale Steyn of South Africa, with 97 wickets at an average of 19.30 in the period. The spinner (and the next bowler on the list) is Muttiah Muralitharan, with an average of 19.33 and 126 wickets. And our final two pace bowlers will be Mohammad Asif (average 20.06 and 43 wickets) and Stuart Clark with (average 23.71 and 59 wickets).
However, if we bring down the minimum number of overs to 200, a surprising name appears on the list: Jacob Oram. He averages 20.36 with the ball and 26 with the bat, and makes for a tempting all rounder.
So the final side, going purely by statistics, over the last two years comes out to:
Matthew Hayden (Australia)
Graeme Smith (South Africa)
Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
Michael Hussey (Australia)
Mohammad Yousuf (Pakistan)
Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka)
Matthew Prior (England)
Dale Steyn (South Africa)
Stuart Clark (Australia)
Mohammad Asif (Pakistan)
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
No one from West Indies, India or New Zealand make this list, but all other countries are represented.
Q: Who has held the most catches as an outfielder for each of the Test-playing countries?
A :Australia's (and the overall) record is held by Mark Waugh, with 181; England's is shared by Ian Botham and Colin Cowdrey, both of whom took 120; India's is held by Rahul Dravid, currently on 165 and in with an excellent chance of going past Waugh; New Zealand's, Stephen Fleming, with 171; Pakistan's, Javed Miandad, with 93; South Africa's, Jacques Kallis, with 117; Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene, with 129; West Indies', Brian Lara, with 164; Zimbabwe's, Alastair Campbell, with 60; and Bangladesh's, Habibul Bashar, with 22. Pakistan are the only one of the Test-playing teams who have had the status for more than 15 years whose leader has less than 100, which perhaps is none too surprising for those who have observed their fielding machinations over the years.
Q: When was the last time New Zealand won a Test series away from home not involving Bangladesh or Zimbabwe?
A: The Kiwis last away victory against teams other than the mentioned was in West Indies in 2002, where they won something a smash-and-grab (their inaugural victory in the Caribbean) 1-0. That is, in fact, the last time they won so much as a single Test away against serious opposition. And you have to go back another 3 years, to 1999 in England, to find their last Test and Test series victories away from home. The 1999 win, too, was their first against someone other than Zimbabwe since they beat Australia and England in consecutive series in 1985/86 and 1986. They have just two previous ones too, in Sri Lanka in 1983/94 and Pakistan in 1969/70.
Q: Who is the tallest player to have ever played international cricket?
A: The tallest player whose height has been recorded appears to have been Joel Garner, who at 6 feet 8 inches sent down his thunderbolts from a very considerable height indeed given he was also possessed of extremely long arms. However, not all international players have a listed height, and though there have been very few who have been taller than 6 feet 6 inches, no list can ever be regarded as definitively complete. William Jefferson, the English county player, is thought to be the tallest First-Class cricketer in history, at an extraordinary 6 feet 9-and-a-half inches.
Q: These days the top umpires have 80, 90, 100 games to their names. But who were the most-stood officials as of January 1, 1980?
A: Only four umpires had stood in more than 30 Tests when the 1980s dawned: Frank Chester, almost universally accepted as the best official before Dickie Bird, had taken charge of 48 Tests between 1924 and 1955; Charlie Elliott had officiated in 42 between 1957 and 1974; Syd Buller in 33 between 1956 and 1969; and Robert Crockett 32 between 1901 and 1925. The first three were all Englishmen, and Crockett Australian.
Q: How many ODI series whitewashes have there been in contests of more than 3 matches?
A: There have been almost 70 instances of whitewashes in a ODI series of three or more matches. While there has never been a whitewash in a seven-ODI series, there have been fifteen instances of a whitewash in a five-match series. The latest one was between Zimbabwe and Pakistan in 2007/08, while the latest one not involving minnows was just a little earlier, between West Indies and South Africa in South Africa.
Q: What's the fastest run-rate in a ODI innings which has lasted more than 30 overs?
A: The highest run rate in any ODI innings lasting more than 30 overs is credited to New Zealand. Thanks to Lou Vincent's career-best 172 off just 120 balls, the Kiwis racked-up 397 runs in the stipulated 44 overs against Zimbabwe in Harare in August 2005. This amounts to a run rate of 9.02, being the only occasion that an innings longer than 30 overs crossed the run rate of 9. New Zealand also holds the record of the highest run rate in any innings, completed or not. They chased down Bangladesh's 93 in just six overs in late 2007. The highest run rate in a completed 50-over innings was achieved by Sri Lanka, when they scored a mammoth 443 runs against Netherlands in July 2006. Not surprisingly, all these records involve a top side against a minnow.