The best and worst teams to debut against
The two Tests that were played last week, in Centurion and in Chennai, were pretty good ones for debutants. In the first, two bowlers, Pakistan's Ehsan Adil and South Africa's Kyle Abbott, made their debuts with varying success: each took a wicket in his first over, but while Adil took only one more wicket before being forced to retire with an injury, Abbott destroyed Pakistan with a burst of 7 for 29, the second-best by a South African on debut. Meanwhile, in Chennai, the dominant debut display came from Moises Henriques the batsman, who became only the fifth Australian batsman to score more than 50 in each innings in his first Test, and the first from any team to score more than 60 in each innings when batting at No. 7 or lower.
Were Henriques and Abbott more likely to perform right away in Test matches because they came from countries that have high standards in first-class cricket? Are new players from other countries more likely to struggle more during their initial foray into Test cricket? And which teams are the most difficult to play against for a debutant? Read on to find out more.
The period under consideration is the last 13 years, from 2000 onwards. From the first table, the numbers that stand out immediately are the averages for debutants who batted in the top seven positions for South Africa (49.85) and England (48.45). For no other team does the overall average exceed 40. However, a break-up of South Africa's numbers reveals that their highest score by a debutant was Jacques Rudolph's 222 not out against Bangladesh. Among the 17 batsmen who debuted in the top seven in the batting order, the next best match aggregate was Faf de Plessis' 188 (78 and 110 not out) against Australia in Adelaide, with a monumental second-innings effort lasting 466 minutes and helping South Africa hang on for a draw. Excluding debuts made against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, South Africa's average drops to 37.42.
For England, Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior all scored centuries on debut, while Kevin Pietersen's scores in his first Test were 57 and 64 not out. (Click here for the full list of England's debutants.)
On the other hand, debutant batsmen from India and Sri Lanka have generally performed poorly in their first Test. For India, out of 26 batsmen, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina are the two who have scored centuries on debut. Among the debutant failures include Virat Kohli (4 and 15 versus West Indies), Wasim Jaffer (4 and 6 versus South Africa) and Gautam Gambhir (3 and 1 versus Australia). For Sri Lanka, Dinesh Chandimal is the only one out of 19 players to have scored more than 100 runs in a debut Test. For most of the other batsmen, the first Test hasn't been such a memorable one.
|Team||No. of batsmen||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||v top teams*-ave|
|South Africa||17||16||1047||49.85||3/ 4||37.42|
|West Indies||36||27||1591||27.91||3/ 6||29.31|
|New Zealand||33||29||1384||27.13||2/ 6||27.45|
|Sri Lanka||19||18||590||22.69||0/ 4||19.04|
Among the debutant bowlers, South Africans, again, have the best average since 2000 - their bowlers have collectively averaged 29.54 in their first Test, and 29.66 against teams other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. In just the last 15 months, three bowlers have made smashing debuts in Tests: Vernon Philander took 8 for 78 against Australia, Marchant de Lange nabbed 8 for 126 against Sri Lanka, and Abbott picked up 9 for 68 against Pakistan. The debutants for Pakistan, England, Australia and India have all done pretty well too, with averages in the early-to-mid 30s.
|Team||Tests||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM||v top teams*-ave|
|South Africa||32||79||29.54||4/ 0||29.66|
|Sri Lanka||39||59||39.84||0/ 0||41.98|
|West Indies||45||99||40.02||2/ 0||44.89|
|New Zealand||41||62||43.29||3/ 0||45.85|
While South Africa, Australia and England generally produce players who perform reasonably well straightaway when thrown into Test cricket, against which teams is it most profitable to make a debut? If you're a batsman, you could do worse than play your first Test against India. Henriques was the latest in a fairly long line of players who have had triumphant debuts against India (at least in terms of their own performance, if not the team's): Henriques' current captain, Michael Clarke, scored 151 and 17 in his first Test; Cook 60 and 104 not out; Kane Williamson 131; Aminul Islam 145 and 6; Alviro Petersen 100 and 21; Kirk Edwards 6 and 110. Overall, debut batsmen average 41.10 against India since the beginning of 2000; excluding debutants from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the average rises to 50.10, which is much better than the averages against other sides. Clearly India is the team to play against if you're playing your first Test as a top-order batsman.
On the other hand, debuting against England hasn't been so productive. The highest match score (over both innings) against them is 88, by Zulqarnain Haider at Edgbaston in 2010. Pakistan hasn't been such a good team to debut against either, with most batsmen struggling for runs; among the exceptions are Nazimuddin (31 and 78) and Ramnaresh Sarwan (84 and 11, both unbeaten).
|Opposition||Batsmen||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||top teams*-ave|
|New Zealand||27||23||1471||35.87||2/ 9||39.72|
|West Indies||27||24||1161||29.76||2/ 5||30.03|
|Sri Lanka||31||25||1549||28.16||5/ 3||33.11|
|South Africa||38||32||1559||27.83||3/ 8||29.92|
Philander had an unforgettable debut against Australia, but he has been among the exceptions. (Amit Mishra and Lasith Malinga are among the chosen few who have also been among the wickets on Test debut against them.) However, for several other bowlers, playing Australia in their first Test has often meant a wholly unmemorable debut. Among those who belong to this club are Iain O'Brien, Ravi Rampaul, Gavin Tonge, Jimmy Ormond, Dewald Pretorious, Albie Morkel, Shane Bond and Irfan Pathan - they all conceded 100 or more runs and took a single wicket in their debut Test against Australia.
Apart from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who most new bowlers have enjoyed bowling against, England is the other side against which debutant bowlers have done well. Among those who have had memorable debuts against them are Darren Sammy (match figures of 8 for 98), Munaf Patel (7 for 97), Wahab Riaz (6 for 103), Andre Adams (6 for 105) and Charl Langeveldt (5 for 96).
|Opposition||Tests||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM||Top teams*-ave|
|West Indies||43||78||35.42||5/ 0||39.69|
|South Africa||49||98||37.38||5/ 0||36.87|
|New Zealand||30||46||37.52||2/ 0||32.07|
|Sri Lanka||43||94||40.03||3/ 0||34.11|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter