July 22, 2011

They dominated the first day: with the red cherry

An analysis of the best bowling performances on the opening day of a Test match

After a series of heavy analytical articles it is time for an anecdotal article or two. 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.

Colin Croft: 8 for 29 in just 18.5 overs against Pakistan Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

In my previous article, I had looked at the batsmen who had dominated the first day of Test matches. There was a wonderful response from the readers and I was able to create an excellent Readers' list of first day domination by batsmen. Theirs was indeed a more difficult task than mine since the individual scorecards had to be perused thoroughly. My hats are off to the wonderful set of readers who embellished and enriched the previous article.

This time I have had a look at the bowlers who dominated the first day. This is both easier and tougher than the batting analysis. Easier because the cut-offs are rather well-defined and it was easier to implement these. Harder because the bowling performances at the end of the day is not available in the Cricinfo scorecards and there was a need to do some interpretation of what could have been the final analysis based on perusal of individual scorecards. I request the readers to show the same level of enthusiasm and interest in coming out with alternative bowling performances. Since no one moved the world at Lord's today, this article is not affected.

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.

The basis for selection of outstanding first day bowling performances was not simple. Cricinfo does not store the day-end bowling performances and care has to be exercised in analysing this information, especially in incomplete innings. Each of the following situations is represented differently and has to be analyzed individually.

- Where an innings is incomplete. This is the toughest of all and might form the basis for most of readers' inputs.
- 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.
- Where two innings have been completed.

Now for selection of the performances. There have been three 9-wicket hauls on the first day. These get selected automatically, irrespective of the batting team. Anything which occurs once in 650 matches does not require any further vetting. Interestingly there is one instance of a bowler capturing all 9 wickets to fall during the first day. The other two have been in completed innings.

There have been eight 8-wicket hauls on the first day. Interestingly there is no instance of a bowler capturing 8 wickets in an incomplete innings. All 8 instances have been in completed innings. These performances do not get selected automatically. Six are included based on the quantum of top-order wickets captured and the quality of the batting team. So this is a question of checking whether there is sufficient justification for dropping the performance.

There have been 37 instances of 7-wicket captures on the first day. Most of these are in completed innings. Here this is a case of checking these performances if there is sufficient justification for inclusion. Various factors such as quantum of top order wickets captured, quality of the batting team and runs conceded are used to select performances. Ten 7-wicket performances are selected. I am confident that the readers would be able to push the claims of a few 7-wicket performances.

In summary, 2 of the 3x9-wkt captures, 4 of the 8x8-wkt captures and 21 of the 37x7-wkt captures have resulted in wins for the first bowling teams. This makes it 27 out of 48 and a much higher win % than the overall numbers.

It would indeed take an exceptionally good and memorable 6-wicket performance to be selected. Only one is considered worthy of inclusion. Maybe the readers might unearth a few gems.

Two second innings performances have been included in the selected 20. The second innings performance is a Hobson's choice. On the one hand, the bowler's task is difficult since he would be defending a relatively low total. The flip side is that the pitch is almost always a bowler-friendly pitch since there has already been a low-scoring first innings. So no special consideration has been shown for performing in the second innings during the first day.

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 bowling performance 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. Muralitharan: 39-18-51-9 (74) vs Zimbabwe 234/9 (30.62). Match 1583 (2002)

There are quite a few reasons why Muralitharan's performance against Zimbabwe is on top. He is the only bowler to capture all the wickets which fell on the first day, in relevant matches (7+ wickets). He went to the second day still with a chance to get the perfect 10. He bowled a maiden over. Then Olonga made sure that this would not happen by losing his wicket to Vaas at the end of the second over. Let me remind the readers that Zimbabwe were a good team, having the Flower brothers and Streak. Sri Lanka won by an innings. This is the only performance selected which is from an incomplete innings.

An explanation on the two numbers shown. The number 74 represents WPI (Wicket position index). This is just a batting-position-based number to measure the value of the wickets captured. This is not used for any analysis. Hence the batting averages are not used. Dismissal of the top six batsmen gets 10 points each, 7-11 are allotted 7, 4, 3, 2 and 2 respectively. Thus 76 is the maximum points. Muralitharan's WQI is 74 (6x10 + 7 + 4 + 3). The number 30.62 indicates the batting quality index, based on ctd values. 50+ is Don-driven, 45+ is outstanding, 40+ is very good, 35+ is good and 30+ is average, 25+ is fair and 20+ is poor.

2. S.P.Gupte: 34-11-102-9 (73) vs West Indies 222 ao (37.62). Match 0461 (1958).

Subash Gupte, that wonderful purest of pure leg-spinners. What magic he wove with the ball. None more than on a wintry evening at Kanpur. Against a strong West Indian team, he captured 9 wickets and helped dismiss the powerful line-up for 222. When compared with Muralitharan, he captured the no.10 batsman rather than no.8. This collection of wickets included Sobers at 4 and Kanhai at 0 and Butcher at 0. That India lost, after tying at 222 in the first innings, was a reflection of the strength of West Indians. Unfortunately Gupte was collared in the second innings.

3. Abdul Qadir: 37-13-56-9 (66) vs England (31.24) 175 ao. Match 1081 (1987).

Abdul Qadir, as much of a classicist as Subash Gupte. He wove a different type of magic, but magic all the same. One laments, where have all the classic spinners gone. At Lahore on a November day during 1987, the English batsmen had no answers. Not a great line-up, and all at sea. Qadir missed out on the wicket of Capel, who batted at no.6. Despite late resistance by Foster and French, who added 57 runs, Qadir captured the last two wickets and finished with an outstanding analysis. Subash Gupte is ahead only because of the quality of West Indian lineup. Pakistan won comfortably.

Three spinners at the top, and all on merit. They are also really the first amongst equals.

3.5. Barnes: 16.1-5-42-6 (112 ao) and 4 for 20 (45 for 5) vs Australia (37.82). Match 0066 (1902).

This is the only instance of a bowler capturing 10 wickets on the first day,. However this was spread over two innings. This excellent performance has been recommended by Arjun (thanks, Arjun). I thought since this was a unique performance I would add it to the main list itself. The second innings performance is an extrapolation. One of the five batsmen dismissed in the second innings was run out. I have not pushed this to the top since these are two very good performances, rather than one.

4. Croft: 18.5-7-29-8 (59) vs Pakistan (36.61) 180 ao. Match 0799 (1977).

Against a strong Pakistani line-up, Garner dismissed Majid Khan early. Then Croft captured the next five and the last three wickets. He was unplayable on that day at Port of Spain, as also evidenced by the few runs he conceded. Roberts went wicket-less and Garner went for plenty. This is the best analysis by a fast bowler on the opening day. It must be remembered that Croft bowled only 28% of the overs.

5. Valentine: 50-14-104-8 (67) vs England (31.98) 312 ao. Match 0323 (1950).

What an amazing day of Test Cricket at Old Trafford. A good England line-up takes the field. Valentine, on his debut, comes quickly as first change and captures the first five wickets to sink England to 88 for 5. Then Bailey and Evans add 161 runs and Evans leaves after scoring 104. Valentine gets two more wickets but the last two wickets are captured by Ramadhin. Note the high wicket-value figure of Valentine. He captured the top eight wickets.

I have done a different method of presenting the bowling performances. I have selected my top-5 already. Now I am going to present the next 5 performances in a group as I cannot identify anything to separate one from the other in a strong manner. Although I must say that there is some preference of mine in the order in which these five are presented. Finally I am going to present the next 10 performances as another group.

6-10. McDermott: 24-2-97-8 (63) vs England (37.08) 244 ao. Match 1163 (1991).

A top-drawer fast bowling performance by an under-rated modern fast bowler. McDermott captured the top 7 wickets before Hughes chipped in with two and McDermott finished off the innings with the last wicket. His performance is one of the best ever by a fast bowler on the first day. Australia won the match, played at WACA, comfortably.

6-10. Doull: 24-7-65-7 (61) vs India (42.35) 208 ao. Match 1435 (1998).

This spell of Simon Doull competes with Croft's as one of the best ever by a fast bowler mainly because he captured the first 7 wickets of a very good Indian line-up. Note the very high value of the WPI, for a 7-wicket haul. It was only the fact that his long spells necessitated replacements by the other bowlers did not let him take more wickets. New Zealand won a close match.

6-10. Ambrose: 18-9-25-7 (53) vs Australia (36.88) 119 ao. Match 1212 (1993).

This is almost a mirror image of the performance of the other giant, Croft. The only reason why this has been moved to the second group is the fact that two of the top three wickets were captured by Bishop and Croft captured 8 wickets. It was still a stunning performance by one of the greats at WACA. West Indies won comfortably, thanks to Bishop's excellent spell in the second innings.

6-10. F.Laver: 18-7-31-8 (54) vs England (36.27) 119 ao. Match 0104 (1910).

The only Laver we all know is the tennis legend. But this was the other Laver. 37 wickets in 15 Tests indicates a journeyman but this day was his 15 seconds of fame. Laver's is one of two second innings bowling performances. As I have already mentioned, this factor should not carry additional weight. Australia, batting first, were dismissed for 147 by Barnes and Blythe, who shared all the 10 wickets, for 147. Then Laver got into the act and finished with the best ever follow-up performance on the first day. After Macartney and Cotter got the first two wickets, Laver captured the next 8 wickets at a very low cost of 31 runs. England were dismissed for 119. The match was, however, drawn.

6-10. SF Barnes: 26-9-56-8 (65) vs South Africa (22.29) 160 ao. Match 0131 (1913).

Playing South Africa at Wanderers, Barnes captured the first six wickets before Hartigan and Ward steadied the innings. Rhodes and Woolley chipped in with a wicket each before Barnes finished off the innings with the last two wickets to finish with 8 for 56. It must be admitted that this was a fairly weak South African batting line-up. England won comfortably.

Now the 11-21 performances, in strict (reverse) chronological order.

11-21. Harmison: 13-7-19-6 (50) vs Pakistan (40.60) 119 ao. Match 1811 (2006).

This is the only 6-wicket haul in this collection. I have selected a modern giant who delivered less than what he promised. However on this day he was devastating. Only one of the six wickets was that of a late order batsman. His performance is one of the best by a fast bowler on the first day. Well supported by Panesar, Harmison helped England win comfortably.

11-21. Muralitharan: 34-9-87-8 (63) vs India 234 ao (32.39). Match 1559 (2002)

Muralitharan again, this time against the Indian team. Although it must be admitted that this team, sans Tendulkar, was a relatively inexperienced team. One reason why this performance, despite being a first day haul of 8 wickets has been moved into the third group. Vaas captured the wickets of Kaif and Harbhajan and Murali captured the rest. Sri Lanka won by an innings.

11-21. McGrath: 21-4-76-7 (63) vs England (31.56) 180 ao. Match 1377 (1997).

McGrath captured the first six wickets of a good English line-up. He finished with 7 for 87, dismissing England for 180. Australia had their dead-rubber blues and somehow managed to lose the Test by 19 runs. That should not take anything away from McGrath's first day effort.

11-21. Warne: 27-8-56-7 (54) vs South Africa (31.10) 169 ao. Match 1243 (1994).

This time it was Warne against his favourite opponents. South Africa were sitting comfortably at 110 for 3 when Warne, starting with Cullinan (who else), captured the next 7 wickets to help dismiss South Africa for 169. Not a surprise considering that this was at SCG. However South Africa, with that famous last day spell of de Villiers, had the last laugh, winning by 5 runs. Warne had a five wicket haul in the second innings also.

11-21. Border: 26-10-46-7 (54) vs West Indies (42.18) 224 ao. Match 1113 (1989).

A very unlikely bowling hero on the first day. A very strong West Indian batting line-up, Border outshone Alderman and Hughes, picking up the batsmen 3-9 for 46 runs. West Indies were dismissed for 224 and Australia duly won the match by 7 wickets. This is undoubtedly the best opening day effort by a non regular bowler.

11-21. Maninder Singh: 18-8-27-7 (52) vs Pakistan (30.93) 116 ao. Match 1073 (1987).

Against an average Pakistani lineup, Maninder bowled one of the best first day spin bowling spells in India. After Kapil Dev prised out the openers, Maninder captured the next 5 wickets and the last two to finish with outstanding figures of 7 for 27. Finally the Pakistani spinners proved more resourceful, despite Gavaskar's legendary 96, and won by 16 runs. This performance pipped Kumble's 7 for 48 against Australia mainly on wicket quality factor.

11-21. Ramadhin: 31-16-49-7 (60) vs England (31.84) 186 ao. Match 0439 (1957).

Lord Beginner's one little pal has already come in. So the other pal would not miss out. This was seven years later. A more experienced Ramadhin, sans Valentine, picked up 6 of the top 7 wickets against a reasonable English lineup. England were dismissed for 186 and looked like losing heavily when May and Cowdrey stepped in with a record match-saving stand. Finally West Indies struggled to save the test.

11-21. Bailey: 16-7-34-7 (53) vs West Indies (45.21) 139 ao. Match 0386 (1954).
11-21. Bailey: 21-8-44-7 (53) vs West Indies (43.06) 127 ao. Match 0440 (1957).

Bailey had two such 7 wicket performances on the opening day against West Indies during the 1950s. First one was the one referred to above. Three top order wickets quickly against a very strong West Indian lineup helped dismiss West Indies for 139 and eventual easy win. Three years later he performed a similar feat, this time taking 7 for 44, again leading to an England win. These two performances have been presented together as one entry since these two performances are virtually identical.

11-21. Faulkner: 27-4-84-7 (54) vs England (40.43) 176 ao. Match 0128 (1912).

This is the other second innings performance. South Africa were dismissed for 95 by Barnes and Woolley. Then Faulkner, bowling unchanged, kept them in the game by capturing 7 for 74, including 4 top order wickets and helped dismiss England for 176. Barnes was unplayable in his 8-wicket spell in the second innings and England won comfortably in the end.

11-21. SF Barnes: 22-6-60-7 (53) vs Australia (42.97) 137 ao. Match 0100 (1908).

This is the other bowling performance of Barnes against a very strong Australian lineup with almost all pre-war greats playing. Australia were dismissed for 137 but won the match in the end through Trumper and Saunders.

Just a final note. The two 8-wicket bowling performances not considered are 8 for 58 by Lohmann (0036) and 8 for 81 by Braund (0082). Lohmann's was against a very weak Australian side. Braund's was against a better team, but not so great a collection of wickets. Anyhow either could have come in.

Unrelated to the above article I am compelled to make a brief comment on the ICC all-time best XI selected by public. The all-time ICC best XI represents a paucity of clear thinking and inability on the part of the voters to consider the greats of the past, predominantly due to lack of knowledge and historic perspective. It would be interesting to see the demographic break-down of the quarter million voters. My guess is 80% from India and 80% of those below-35. I also feel it was somewhat fortuitous that Bradman was selected.

At some time in the future I will try and get a dialog going with the readers on the subject. One thing I do not associate with the readers of this blogspace is myopia, the inability to recognize greatness and lack of historic perspective.

Readers' selections

1. Fazal Mohd: 6/34 in 27 straight overs vs Australia 80 ao (0430/1956) Pawan.
2. Underwood 7/113 vs Aus 304 ao (0754/1975) Ruchir. 2nd day but no play on first.
3. MacGill 7/104 vs West Indies 256 for 9 (1527/2001). Ruchir.
4. C.Pringle 7 for 56 vs Pakistan 102 ao (1153/1990). Arjun.
5. McGrath 5 for 21 vs England 92 for 7 (1756/2005) Arjun. 2nd inns.
6. Blythe 8 for 59 vs South AFrica 110 ao (0094/1907). Alex. 2nd inns.
7. Lawson 7 for 78 vs Australia (incl hat-trick) (1645/2003). Arjun.
8. Ironmonger 7 for 23 vs West Indies (0205/1931). Tom/Alex.
9. Kumble 7 for 48 vs Australia (1714/2004). Pavan.
10. McKenzie 7 for 66 vs India (0625/1968). Arjun.
11. Old 6 for 48 vs Pakistan (0825/1978). Alex.
12. Tattersall 6 for 48 vs India (0346/1952). Ad.
13. Martin 6 for 54 vs Sri Lanka (1748/2005). Arjun.
14. Lance Cairns 7 for 74 vs England (0958/1983) Arjun/Gerry.
15. Garner 6 for 60 vs Australia (0983/1984) Gerry.
16. Ghulam Ahd 7 for 49 vs Australia 177 ao (0433/1956). Arjun/Alex.
17. Motz 6 for 69 vs West Indies 297 ao (0651/1969) Arjun.
18. Spofforth 7 for 46 vs England 101 ao (0009/1882) Ad. 2nd inns.
19. Imran Khan 7 for 52 vs England 272 ao. (0931/1982) Pallab.
20. Lever 6 for 38 vs Australia 152 ao (0755/1975) Arjun.
21. Worrell (6/38 - 82 ao) & Johnston (6/62 - 105 ao) (0343/1951) Arjun.
22. Donald 6 for 53 vs England 122 ao (1471/1999) Venkat/Gerry.

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