The term refers to a specific form of analysis paralysis, felt by a batsman when he has scored more than 90 runs in an innings, and is nervous because of the pressure and desire to convert this into a century (100 runs), which is considered to be a milestone of success in the game. Therefore this situation is referred to as batsmen being in the nervous nineties. Batsmen tend to bat in a more conservative manner when they are close to their century, in order to avoid getting out and thus missing out on the milestone. Batsmen dismissed on 99 are considered the unluckiest of the nervous nineties victims.
Statistically, one of the worst victims of the nervous nineties was Australian opener (and now commentator) Michael Slater, dismissed in the nineties 9 times in his test career, and surviving to make a century 14 times. West Indian batsman Alvin Kallicharran's record was similarly poor, dismissed in the nineties 7 times for 12 career centuries. Indian Sachin Tendulkar has scored in 90s 18 times in ODIs and 10 times in test cricket and holds the record for highest number of dismissals in the 90s (a total of 28 times) across all forms of international cricket.
Sir Donald Bradman holds the record for most Test centuries scored in a career without ever being dismissed in the nervous nineties: a total of 29 centuries. Greg Chappell (24 centuries) and Michael Vaughan (18 centuries) have the next best records.
While most dedicated batsmen can achieve multiple centuries and potentially dozens of opportunities to score them, for many all-rounders and bowlers, it can be rare for an innings to last long enough to achieve a century because of his team-mates losing their wickets, or for the lower-skilled bowler to be effective enough in his stroke play to come close to a century on many occasions. Shane Warne, who was considered to have a good level of skill as a power-hitting lower-order batsman, played 199 test innings as a batsman and achieved 12 half-centuries. He was dismissed twice in the 90's, once on 90, and once on 99. Ashton Agar, playing on debut for Australia vs England, came in as the last batsman and compiled the highest ever score for a Number 11 batter, but fell for 98 with a rash pull shot from a bouncer, after nervously swatting and missing at two previous deliveries.
- "Horton takes the slow lane through nervous nineties". The Independent. 2014-03-19. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
- "Nervous nineties". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
- "Gibbs stuck in the nineties rut". Cricinfo. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
- "Michael Slater – Cricket Players and Officials". Cricinfo. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
- Cricinfo.com. "Batting records". Cricinfo. Retrieved 3 Jan 2011.