Multistats December 6, 2011

Multistat: 4

The highest score made by an Australian opener in his first innings on Test debut, since Matthew Hayden’s unforgettable 15 against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1993-94.

David Warner’s dashingly pugnacious third-ball 3 in Brisbane (the shortest recorded innings by an Australian opener in his debut Test innings), followed Phil Hughes’ 0 in South Africa in 2008-09, Chris Rogers’ 4 against India in 2007-08, Phil Jaques’ 2 and Mike Hussey’s 1 in the 2005-06 season, and Matthew Elliot’s duck in 1996-97.

Debuting Australian openers have thus averaged 1.66 in their maiden Test innings since 1994. Unsurprisingly, this is by far the lowest figure of any Test nation, although the stats show that many debut openers have struggled ‒ none of the 10 Indians and seven Sri Lankans to open on debut since 1994 have reached 50 in their first Test innings.

By comparison, in the same period since Hayden first galumphed to the Test match crease, 15 Australians have made their Test debuts batting at Nos. 3, 4, 5 or 6. Between them, they have scored four hundreds and six fifties, and recorded a collective average of 90.17 (next highest: South Africa, averaging 47). All of this suggests that modern Australian batsmen are 5432% more effective in their debut Test innings when not opening the batting. Which also suggests that Australia should keep picking debut openers until at least one reaches double figures, before flooding the rest of their batting order with randomly conscripted debutants, who will then, with mathematical inevitability, score at least a quintuple-century each. You cannot fight mathematics.

Of course, the likelihood is that these failures have been deliberate. Not, I hasten to add, for any dubious reasons. It is a well-known fact that education in Australian schools consists of little other than sledging and obscure cricket statistics, so Warner, like his immediate predecessors, would have been well aware of the fact that, of the 19 openers to have made first-innings hundreds on Test debut, 11 have never made another century (and only Alviro Petersen has any realistic hope of doing so, unless a more-than-usually fractious contractual dispute in the West Indies gives 90-year-old Andy Ganteaume a chance to add to his 112 in his only Test innings). Eight of these 11 never even passed 50 in a Test again. These facts would, without any doubt, have been coursing around Warner’s mind as he plotted the most likely way to ensure himself a long and productive Test career.

Also: The least common place in the batting order for a debutant player to bat: 103 Test debutants have batted at 4 in the first innings of their debut match. (The figures for the rest of the batting order are as follows: 1: 117 debutants; 2: 268; 3: 147; 5: 154; 6: 269; 7: 251; 8: 286; 9: 271; 10: 313; 11: 362.)

Only two debuting No. 4 batsmen have made centuries in their first Test innings – the Nawab of Pataudi, for England in the first Test of the Bodyline series, and Aminul Islam, in Bangladesh’s first Test. Neither made another Test hundred. Use that fact wisely. It could open doors for you in one of both of business and romance.

Also: The number of decades (plus a couple of years) from 1928-29 that it took Australia to find the same number of bowlers to take five-wicket hauls on debut as have done so in the last three months. Lyon, Cummins and Pattinson have combined to ensure that there have been as many five-wicket hauls by debutant Australian bowlers since 31 August as there were in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s combined (or between 1987 and 2008).

Conclusion: He who reads too much into Test debuts is as much a fool as he who wanders into a lion enclosure dressed as a zebra, shouting, “Can we not sort this out with dialogue rather than violence?”

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer