The Friday Column July 20, 2007

India's first-Test blues

India's problem when playing overseas has often been the opening Test, especially when playing in conditions which they aren't familiar with
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Rahul Dravid has only scored two half-centuries, with a highest of 76, in 14 innings in first Tests of a series in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand © AFP

Just one day into the Lord's Test, and India are already playing catch-up cricket after England raced to 268 for 4. It's been a familiar story in Indian cricket - each tour is seen as an opportunity to break the wretched jinx and finally win a series abroad, but the end result has been frustratingly similar. Since their famous 2-0 win in England in 1986, the Indians have only achieved one series victory against a reasonably competitive opposition, when they beat West Indies 1-0 last year.

In most cases, the problem for them has been the opening Test, especially when playing in conditions they aren't familiar with. The tour to South Africa in 2006-07 was an exception, with India winning the first - though they promptly went ahead and lost the next two, and the series - but usually they've had huge problems starting. It's an issue that has plagued the other teams from the subcontinent as well, but the results indicate that India have had the most troubles.

Taking the period since 1990 into consideration, the tables below have examined the performances of the three major teams from the subcontinent in the first Test of a series in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa - countries where the conditions are very different to those in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. (The West Indies hasn't been considered since conditions there have become increasingly similar to those found in the subcontinent.)

India's discomfort is obvious from the fact that in 13 such first Tests, they've come out scarred nine times, with two defeats out of three in Australia and New Zealand, two out of four in South Africa, and three out of three in England. Sri Lanka have a win each in New Zealand and England, but the team that has conquered the first-Test blues the best is Pakistan, with five wins in 17 games. Four of those were in New Zealand and one in England; when confronted with the more bouncy surfaces of Australia and South Africa, Pakistan have struggled to adjust too, losing seven out of eight matches.

Subcontinent teams in first Tests in Aus, Eng, SA and NZ since 1990
Team Tests Won Drawn Lost
Pakistan 17 5 4 8
Sri Lanka 14 2 5 7
India 13 1 3 9

The problem for all these teams has largely been their performance in the first innings, with both bat and ball. The Indians, for example, average 26.14 runs per wicket with the bat in the first innings, and concede nearly 37 runs per wicket with the ball, which translates into a first-innings deficit of 108, a position from which it's been very difficult to come back into the game. The numbers aren't much different for Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

First-innings performance by subcontinent teams in first Tests
Team Batting - runs per wkt Bowling - runs per wkt Difference
Sri Lanka 30.50 39.38 8.88
Pakistan 28.45 39.28 10.83
India 26.14 36.98 10.84

The table below shows the big names from India in rather poor light - among the top players from the three sides, the Indians have the worst records in first Tests, suggesting that they haven't adapted as quickly as batsmen from the other subcontinent teams. Rahul Dravid's highest score in the matches in question is 76, from 14 innings, while Sachin Tendulkar has only scored two hundreds in these games - 122 against England at Edgbaston in 1996, and 155 at Bloemfontein against the South Africans. Sourav Ganguly has only one hundred, while VVS Laxman has no centuries but three ducks in 12 innings.

Each of the other two sides has had players who managed to acclimatise to the conditions more easily. Mohammad Yousuf, for instance, scored a double-hundred at Lord's last year, and also had knocks of 95 and 75 at the Gabba in 1999. Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene has been equally prolific, with two hundreds at Lord's and 141 at Napier in 2005. Compare those numbers to the stats of the Indians, and its clear India have plenty of catching up to do. If England's middle and lower order come to the party, India might have a mountain to climb when they finally come out to bat. Tendulkar and Co could do worse than try and improve on their first-Test stats when they finally get their chance to bat in this game.

Subcontinent batsmen in first Tests in Aus, Eng, SA and NZ since 1990
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
VVS Laxman 6 419 41.90 0/ 3
Sourav Ganguly 7 407 33.91 1/ 2
Rahul Dravid 7 357 29.75 0/ 2
Sachin Tendulkar 12 636 28.90 2/ 2
Younis Khan 5 495 55.00 1/ 3
Mohammad Yousuf 7 655 50.38 1/ 3
Inzamam-ul-Haq 12 774 43.00 1/ 6
Saeed Anwar 5 387 43.00 1/ 3
Mahela Jayawardene 8 662 50.92 3/ 2
Marvan Atapattu 8 634 45.29 2/ 2
Kumar Sangakkara 7 337 30.63 1/ 2
Sanath Jayasuriya 10 549 32.29 1/ 2

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Sajan Nair.