Q: A couple of weeks ago you mentioned Ewen Chatfield; his Test record is surprisingly moderate for someone who generally seems to be held in pretty high regard. Was he better than it suggests?
A :Well, Chatfield's basic career average (32.17), as is the case with the overwhelming majority of players who had careers of much length, does not give all that accurate a picture. His debut (which was a horrific affair in which he was very nearly killed, only saved by the swift action of England physiotherapist Bernard Thomas) was one of just five Tests he played in the first eight years which his career spanned, in which he tasted no success. But in the five years starting from 1982/83 (by which time he was 32) he played a further 33 Tests, taking 107 wickets at 27.74, featuring an economy-rate of just 2.24-an-over. In this time he played a vital part in the most successful phase in New Zealand's Test history. He then had a final season of great ineffectiveness in 1988/89.
Q: Is it just me or have scoring-rates in ODIs in New Zealand shot up in recent years?
A: It's not just you - but nor is it just a New Zealand matter. The change has been pretty pronounced, and has a very clear start-date: since 2003/04, every season in New Zealand (55 ODIs so far) has seen an average scoring-rate of in excess of 5-an-over; from 2002/03 backwards, it had happened just once (excluding 1973/74, which saw just a couple of matches. The reasons for this can be traced to the same reasons for the general increase in scoring in ODIs which happened across the globe starting from a little earlier - uniformly flat decks and average bowling attacks. The effect of this is likely to be more pronounced in New Zealand than elsewhere, due to the rugby-cum-cricket grounds, routinely very small by cricket standards, offering short boundaries which extend the likelihood of average bowling on flat decks taking severe punishment.
Q: How many Tests have Sri Lanka won outside the subcontinent, excluding the two farces in Zimbabwe in 2003/04?
A: 6 so far - the first in New Zealand at McLean Park, then England at The Oval, then Zimbabwe (who were a serious Test team at that point unlike in 2003/04) at Harare Sports Club, then England at Trent Bridge, then New Zealand at Basin Reserve, then West Indies at Providence. They have yet to win a Test in South Africa or Australia, and in fact have never really come terribly close; in South Africa they have had some opportunity, in Australia very little.
Q: And have they ever won two games outside the subcontinent in the same calendar-year?
A: With the same exclusions as before, just once - their later two victories over England and New Zealand came in June and December 2006.
Q: Has there ever been a series of more than three Tests in New Zealand?
A: Yes, but not many, and only one of any great interest. The first-ever series, contested by the Kiwis and England (such was the haphazard nature of international cricket in those days that two separate England teams were contesting series' in New Zealand and West Indies, neither of which was regarded as Test at the time), was of four Tests' duration, and was mostly filled with high-scoring draws. The next was a walkover by the outstanding West Indian side of the 1950s, in 1955/56, where they won the opening three by large margins before New Zealand grabbed their maiden Test victory in the dead fourth. The final one, by which time New Zealand were not before time established as a serious power in Test cricket, was in 1967/68, against India. This was the first time India had begun to offer serious competition away from home, and they won three-one.
Q: And how many six-Test series' have been played?
A: If we count the 1970/71 Ashes (which some records display as a seven-match affair, but in reality was just a six - one Test was washed-out and the seventh arranged as its replacement) and discount the 1998 Wisden Trophy (the First Test was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch and the Second arranged as its replacement so in reality it was a five-match rubber not a six), there have been 17 so far, the first being that 1970/71 Ashes and the most recent the 1997 Ashes. Rather unfortunately, 4 of these 17 were ruined by defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (The Ashes 1978/79, the same season's India vs. West Indies, plus 1979/80's India vs. Australia and India vs. Pakistan). The six-Test series was mainly the preserve of Ashes series' - all three in Australia in the 1970s and all five in England in the 1980s and 1990s were such things. England and Australia each played one home series against West Indies (1975/76 and 1995 respectably) as a six-match rubber but only India in the late-1970s and early-1980s ever followed-suit - as well as the three above Packer-afflicted series' (where they benefited greatly, as their opposition were all significantly weakened while they were not) they hosted series' against England (1981/82) and West Indies (1983/84), as well as playing one in Pakistan in 1982/83. In recent times, with Ashes-mania becoming ever more fever-pitched, there has been serious suggestion of re-invoking the six-Test-series idea: Australia are keen to give Bellerive Oval an Ashes Test in addition to the traditional five venues at The 'Gabba, WACA, Adelaide Oval, MCG and SCG; while there has been plentiful disquiet in England about several of the traditional venues (Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Headingley and Old Trafford) missing-out while newer grounds (The Riverside, SWALEC Stadium and The Rose Bowl) get in on the act, and a sixth Ashes Test would be a way of appeasing this to some degree. It would be difficult to fit in with the ECB's broadcasting commitments (which necessitate seven Tests per summer) and ICC's requirements (one-off Tests are no longer allowed), however. In Australia, the six-Test series may return soon, however.