July 8, 2011

They owned the first day: with the willow

A statistical analysis of the top Test innings played on the first day of matches

Gordon Greenidge: 134 out of 211 against England in 1976 © Getty Images

After a series of heavy analytical articles it is time for an anecdotal article. However let me assure the readers that this article also, as my other anecdotal articles have been, would be based on solid analysis and not just some subjective selection. This article has been on the anvil for the past two months.

During the past 134 years there have been over 1950 first days in Test cricket. The first day is the most important one in a Test match. The team which wins the first day goes a long way towards winning the Test. Stated in other words, the team which goes behind on the first day would always play catch up. This is the first of two articles on the players who helped their teams come out on top or reasonably well by their performances on the first day. My initial idea was to include both batsmen and bowlers in one article but have since separated the two in view of the length of the article and the complexity inherent in the bowling analysis.

The basis for selection of outstanding first day batting performances was not simple. Cricinfo stores the first day information in a particular manner and care has to be exercised in analysing this information. Each of the following situations is represented differently and has to be analysed individually.

- Where an innings is incomplete and two batsmen are batting at the crease.
- Where an innings is incomplete and one batsmen is batting at the crease (last ball dismissal).
- Where one innings has been completed by end of day's play.
- Where one innings has been completed by end of day's play and the other innings has started (again first two conditions).
- Where two innings have been completed.
- Where two innings have been completed and a third innings started.

In some cases the batsman score(s) have to be picked up from the Day 1 information, in some cases from scorecards with some intuitive working out of which batsmen have been dismissed and so on.

Now for selection of the performances. Only one innings is selected automatically. The 309 by Bradman, made on the first day. This is a performance that only a person with extreme guts, fuelled by bias, can keep out of the table. The chances that this effort would be repeated would probably be in between a bowler taking 10 wickets and a batsman scoring 400+ runs. While others have come close to achieving this aggregate in a day's play (Sehwag scored 284 on the second day against Sri Lanka), it is extremely unlikely that anyone would do so on the first day.

Regarding the other performances, the relevant factors, viz., the bowling strength, the number of wickets which fell, the support received et al have been considered and the performances selected. The Wisden-100 table has also been used as a guideline. The final ordering is purely my own preference. The reader may not agree, but should refrain from overtly criticizing the selection or the order. Again, as normally happens, readers can send their suggestions, but with adequate supporting material. Just a single statement pointing out a certain innings is unlikely to merit serious consideration. You have to take the trouble of a perusal of the Cricinfo (or alternate) scorecard and support your candidate.

1. 309* Bradman (Eng) 38.73

0196 (1930) - Australia 458/3 (Bradman 309*, McCabe 12*)

The only time a batsman has scored over 300 in a day's play. This was done by Bradman early in his career. There is no way this momentous innings can be anywhere but top of this list. Since the information on number of overs bowled during the day is unavailable, through extrapolation, I could say that this innings of 309 on the first day must have taken Bradman around 350-375 balls. The bowling attack was just passable. The match ended as a high-scoring draw.

2. 182* Hill (Eng) 35.64

0056 (1898) - Australia 275/7 (Hill 182*, Kelly 22*)

England had a middling attack. Australia started disastrously and slumped to 58 for 6. Hill played one of the finest Test innings ever played, essaying three memorable partnerships for the 7th, 8th and 9th wickets. He was ninth out, at 303, having scored well over 60% of the runs. He would have faced just over 250 balls. Only two other fifties were scored in the match and Australia won comfortably.

Incidentally the all-time classic by Hill is one of two innings in this selection which were in the top-10 of the Wisden-100 table. A very well-deserved place for an unforgettable effort.

3. 244 Bradman (Eng) 28.13

0237 (1934) - Australia 475/2 (Ponsford 205*, McCabe 1*)

This was an extraordinary day of cricket. Australia scored 475 for 2 and this contained an unbeaten innings of 205 by debutant Ponsford, but more significantly, a completed innings of 244 by Bradman, during which he faced only 271 balls. But for the unique nature of the 309, I would think of this innings as the best first day effort ever. The bowling was excellent and comprised of Bowes, Allen, Clark and Verity.

4. 202* Lara (Aus) 27.62

1773 (2005) - West Indies 352/7 (Lara 202*, Powell 7*; 90 overs)

The bowling was one of Australia's best, viz., McGrath, Lee, Warne and MacGill. The setting was away in Australia. Lara walks in at 19 for 2 and sees wickets falling regularly. He plays one of his best innings, not many people remember this as much as the big ones, 153, 277 and 213. Lara guides West Indies to 352 for 7, scoring well over half the runs. He ends at 202, finishes at 226 and, with the next highest innings standing at a low 34. No surprise that Australia win the match comfortably.

5. 132 Azhar Mahmood (Saf) 24.51

1403 (1998) - Pakistan 259/10

What does one say about this innings? Pakistan, playing away in South Africa, against a devastating attack of Donald, de Villiers and Pollock. The ground, the fear-evoking Kingsmead. Azhar Mahmood walks in at 89 for 5. He plays a wonderful attacking innings of 132, adding 170 runs for the last 5 wickets. He scored 132 out of 170, an unbelievable 78%. He faced only 163 balls. What was more important was that this innings helped Pakistan take a small first- innings lead and in the end they had a narrow win.

In my opinion one of the best innings ever, as also proved by the placing of this innings in the seventh position in the Wisden-100 list of the all-time great innings. This classic and Hill's equally wonderful 188 occupy nearby positions in the top-10 of the Wisden-100 table.

6. 126* Bannerman (Eng) 58.67

0001 (1877) - Australia 166/6 (Bannerman 126*, Blackham 3*)

This was the first day of Test cricket in history. In about 90-100 overs, Australia scores 166 for 6. Out of this low total, Bannerman scores 126, just over 75%. The next highest innings is 15, on the first day. But for this innings, Australia could have been dismissed for well below 100. Who knows what might have happened. But Bannerman defied the English bowlers single-handedly. I would say the ownership of the first day of Test cricket was probably the strongest of all 134 years since then.

7. 228* Sehwag (Pak) 29.06

1693 (2004) - India 356/2 (Sehwag 228*, Tendulkar 60*)

Against a fairly good attack of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohd. Sami, Shabbir Ahmed, Saqlain and Razzak, Sehwag scored 228 runs, on the way to the first of his two triple-centuries. 90 overs were bowled during the day and Sehwag must have faced around 250-270 balls during the day. India scored a mammoth 675 and went on to win by an innings. This was the match of the Dravid declaration when Tendulkar was on 194 and much fuss was made on this. However the sheen should not be taken away from Sehwag's unforgettable effort.

8. 153 Gooch (Win) 25.56

0902 (1981) - England 278/6 (Botham 12*, Downton 0*)

Gooch, as he was wont to do often, faced an attack of Holding, Marshall, Croft and Garner, that too at Kingston, Jamaica. With little support from the other batsmen, Gooch steered the England innings to a satisfactory 278 for 6. Gooch himself was dismissed just before the close of play. This was an innings nearly as good as the more famous Headingley classic of 154. Gooch scored quite quickly, taking about 220 balls. The match was comfortably drawn.

9. 169* Smith IDG (Ind) 37.44

1139 (1990) - New Zealand 387/9 (Smith 169*, Morrison 0*)

This was an extraordinary innings on an extraordinary day of cricket. New Zealand, playing at home against a good Indian attack led by Kapil Dev, slumped to 131 for 7 when Ian Smith walked in. He added over 100 with Richard Hadlee and 140 with Snedden and the day finishes at 387 for 9. Out of the 266 added while he was at crease, Smith scored 173 runs. In the ninth wicket partnership of 136, Smith scored well over 100 runs. This was arguably the best innings ever played by a No.9 in Test cricket.

In the second innings the established batsmen came to the party and New Zealand drew the match comfortably. Incidentally, Smith scored his 169 in 130 balls.

10. 155* Compton (Saf) 34.16

0410 (1955) - England 264/7 (Compton 155*, Lock 6*)

This was Compton at his best. A good South African attack reduced England to 75 for 4. Compton, with some support from May and then Bailey, steered them to respectability at 264 for 7, out of which he scored 155 runs. England went on to lose the match narrowly.

11. 134 Greenidge (Eng) 35.02

0779 (1976) - West Indies 211/10.

West Indies opened with Fredericks. The top 4 wickets fell for 26. Greenidge played, arguably, his best Test innings ever getting West Indies out of disaster. He scored 134 out of 211, the next best being King's 32. No other batsman exceeded 10. This was around 65% of the team total and was comparable to the Bannerman classic. Greenidge also scored a hundred in the second innings and West Indies won by a million runs.

11. 187 Hobbs (Saf) 29.40

0110 (1910) - England 406/7 (Thompson 48*, Tufnell 12*)

This was a very good South African attack, playing at home. Hobbs, opening the innings, held the innings together, scoring a masterly 187 and was fifth out at 327. He must have faced around 250 balls. England scored at a fair clip and went on to score 417, finally winning the match comfortably by 9 wickets.

11. 181* Langer (Pak) 37.98

1726 (2004) - Australia 357/8 (Langer 181*, Kasprowicz 4*, 86 overs)

The Pakistan attack was a fair one, at best. However Australia slumped to 78 for 5 and Langer, with support from Gilchrist, steered them to a good first innings total of 381. Then Pakistan failed twice and Australia won by nearly 500 runs. This innings was almost a carbon copy of the Hobbs effort, nearly a 100 years before. Incidentally, Langer scored 97 in the second innings. Langer faced around 260 balls.

11. 155 Tendulkar (Saf) 25.54

1564 (2001) - India 372/7 (Dasgupta 29*; 90 overs)

This was the first match of the (in)famous series, marred by allegations and scrapping of the third Test match. It contained a gem of an innings by Tendulkar. The bowling attack was led by Shaun Pollock, Ntini, Hayward and Kallis. India slumped to 68 for 4. Sehwag, the nervous debutant, walked in. Tendulkar controlled the innings in a beautiful manner and took the score to 288 for 6 when he was dismissed for an outstanding 155. This was, unlike some of the later efforts of Tendulkar, a fairly quick one, requiring only 184 balls. India lost comfortably in the end.

11. 136* Lara (Aus) 23.45

1523 (2000) - West Indies 274/4 (Lara 136*, Dillon 3*, 90 overs)

This is the the other sub-150 innings. The selection has been done based on the quality of the bowling attack, which was one of the best, led by McGrath, Gillespie and MacGill. As normally happened, Lara had very little support from the other batsmen and remained unbeaten on 136, having steered West Indies to a reasonable 274 for 4. However West Indies lost the match. This innings won the nod over the 176, mentioned later, because of the high quality of the Australian bowling.

11. 177 Vaughan (Aus) 24.43

1628 (2002) - England 295/4 (Butcher 22*; 89.3 overs)

Australia's bowling attack was a devastating one, comprising of McGrath, Gillespie, Bichel and Warne. Michael Vaughan , with very little support from his fellow batsmen, the next highest being 47, steered England to a reasonably safe 295 for 4 and was out to the last ball of the day. His 177 required 306 balls. As Australia was wont to do in those days, they scored at a furious pace and took a lead of over 200 runs. England lost by an innings.

The following innings came under serious consideration. They all have their strong points and could easily have replaced any of the innings grouped together at no.11.

Ponsford     205*  0237
Walcott      147*  0383
Sobers       152*  0502
Richards     200*  0781
Tilakaratne  115   1305
Moin Khan     70   1444
Jacobs        96*  1520
Lara         176   1749
Kamran Akmal 113   1783
Sangakkara   156   1822
Dravid       177*  1933

Given below are the four first days during which two batsmen stayed throughout. The fifth occasion when Wasim Jaffer was injured and India finished at 300+ for 0 against Bangladesh is not considered.

0420 - India 234/0 (Mankad 109*, Roy 114*)
0589 - Australia 263/0 (Lawry 102*, Simpson 137*)
1125 - Australia 301/0 (Marsh 125*, Taylor 141*)
1865 - South Africa 405/0 (McKenzie 169*, Smith 223*)

Given below are the 200+ scores scored during the first day, ordered by runs scored. There have been 21 occasions. Bradman has achieved this 5 times and Hammond 3 times and Graeme Smith twice, both times against Bangladesh.

309* Bradman D.G 38.73 (Eng) 0196 Australia 458/3 (Bradman 309*, McCabe 12*) 244 Bradman D.G 28.13 (Eng) 0237 Australia 475/2 (Ponsford 205*, McCabe 1*) 228* Sehwag V 29.06 (Pak) 1693 India 356/2 (Sehwag 228*, Tendulkar 60*) 223* Smith G.C 42.43 (Bng) 1865 South Africa 405/0 (McKenzie 169*, Smith 223*) 223* Hammond W.R 49.87 (Nzl) 0225 England 418/5 (Hammond 223*, Brown 12*) 223* Bradman D.G 49.49 (Win) 0203 Australia 428/3 (Bradman 223*, McCabe 1*) 228 Gibbs 33.18 (Pak) South Africa 445/3 (Gibbs dismissed). 219* Gayle C 40.62 (Slk) 1977 West Indies 362/2 (Gayle 219*, Chanderpaul 20*) 217 Hammond W.R 53.26 (Ind) 0254 England 471/8 (Fishlock 19*, Voce 1*) 210* Hammond W.R 44.01 (Aus) 0264 England 409/5 (Hammond 210*, Ames 50*) 209 Roach C.A 38.98 (Eng) 0192 West Indies 336/2 (Headley 60*) 205* Ponsford W 28.13 (Eng) 0237 Australia 475/2 (Ponsford 205*, McCabe 1*) 205 Aamer Sohail 43.73 (Eng) 1191 Pakistan 388/3 (Javed Miandad 59*, Moin Khan 7*) 203* Kanhai R.B 38.94 (Ind) 0463 West Indies 359/3 (Kanhai 203*, Butcher 87*) 203 Collins H.L 38.57 (Saf) 0146 Australia 450/10 202* Lara B.C 27.62 (Aus) 1773 West Indies 352/7 (Lara 202*, Powell 7*) 202* Kirsten G 38.44 (Zim) 1562 South Africa 414/1 (Kirsten 202*, Kallis 56*) 201 Bradman D.G 52.10 (Ind) 0294 Australia 370/3 (Hassett 39*, Miller 4*) 200* Richards I.V.A 33.15 (Eng) 0781 West Indies 373/3 (Richards 200*, Lloyd 15*) 200* Bradman D.G 44.82 (Saf) 0212 Australia 341/6 (Bradman 200*, Oldfield 3*) 200 Smith G.C 60.00 (Bng) 1619 South Africa 369/2 (Kirsten 113*, Kallis 1*).

Readers' selections

1. Slater 176 out of 329/4 vs England. Match 1275 (1994). (Gerry/Tom).
2. McCabe 127* out of 290/6 vs England (Bodyline). Match 0220 (1932)
3. Gibbs 228 out of 445/3 vs Pakistan. Match 1637 (2003). (Eagle eye of Venkat).
4. Kamran Akmal 113 out of 245/10 vs India. Match 1783. (2006) (Goel/Abbas).
5. Dravid 81 out of 200/10 vs West Indies. Match 1808 (2006). (Goel/Raghav).
6. Hughes 100* out of 198/10 vs West Indies. Match 0915 (1981)
7. Trumper 104 out of 299/10 vs England. 3-run win. Match 0073 (1902)
8. Taylor 109 out of 182/10 vs England. Match 0130 (1913) (Alex).
9. Manjrekar 133 out of 272/6 vs England. Match 0351 (1952) (Pawan).
10.G.Kirsten 100* out of 239/10 vs Pakistan. Match 1382 (1997) (Arjun/Venkat).
11.Harvey 74 228/10 vs England. Match 0327 (1950) (Ravi).
12.BR Taylor 124 out of 323/10 vs West Indies. Match 0648 (1969) (Alex).
13.Jayasuriya 341/5 vs South Africa. Match 1504 (2000) (Alex).
14.Pollock RG 160* and Richards BA 140* out of 336/5 vs Australia .
Match 0671 (1970) (Venkat).
15.Mark Waugh 117* out of 355/5 against WIN (Amb/Pat/Wal/Mar!!!).
Match 1170 (1991) (Alex)
16. Walters 104 out of 221/10 off NZL. match 0736 (1974) (Arjun-the terrier)
17. Saeed Anwar 132* out of 253/8 vs Australia. Match 1424 (1998) (Vinish/Alex).
18. Kanhai 121 out of 224/10 vs Australia. Match 0590 (1965) (Alex).
19. Vishwanath 114 out of 237 ao vs Australia. Match 0895 (1981) (Gerry).
20. Richards 130 out of 241 ao vs India. Match 0775 (1976) (Gerry).
21. Kluesener 118 out of 260 ao vs Sri Lanka (away-win by 7 runs). Match 1505 (2000) (Arjun).
22. Nurse 93 out of 235 (out of 135 team) ao vs England. Match 0607 (1966) (Arjun).
23. Hooper 134 out of 294 vs Pak (IK/WY/WA/AQ). Test 1158 (1990) (Arjun/Alex).
24. Grace 170 out of 279/2 (out of team score 216) vs Aus. 0024 (1986) (Shri).
25. S.Waugh 108 out of 235 ao vs England. Match 1372 (1997) Ruchir.

This is one article in which the readers' contributions have enriched the contents immeasurably. I limited my first cut list to 150+ and then scanned the scorecards for the lower level innings. The first is fine. However when we come to the innings below 150, the readers, with their combined brainpower, have done much better than me in unearthing classics. Hats off to the wonderful lot, you guys. Take a collective bow. Venkat and Alex lead the pack.

The first day bowling spell analysis will follow later in another article. This is not as clear-cut as the batting analysis especially when incomplete innings are to be considered. Exact bowling analysis at end of day is quite elusive.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems