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The best and worst teams to debut against

Are debutants from Australia and South Africa closer to the finished product than those from other sides?

S Rajesh

March 1, 2013

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Moises Henriques ensured Australia staved off an innings defeat, India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day, February 25, 2013
Moises Henriques is the latest in a fairly long list of batsmen who have done well in their debut Test against India © BCCI
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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-wise stats for debut batsmen (positions 1-7) for each team since 2000
Team No. of batsmen Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s v top teams*-ave
South Africa 17 16 1047 49.85 3/ 4 37.42
England 26 26 1696 48.45 4/ 10 50.16
Australia 21 20 1179 39.30 3/ 6 39.30
Pakistan 31 26 1942 38.07 6/ 7 34.77
West Indies 36 27 1591 27.91 3/ 6 29.31
New Zealand 33 29 1384 27.13 2/ 6 27.45
Bangladesh 36 25 1637 26.83 2/ 9 25.45
India 26 20 930 24.47 2/ 2 25.24
Sri Lanka 19 18 590 22.69 0/ 4 19.04
Zimbabwe 22 15 836 22.59 1/ 3 23.66

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-wise stats for debut bowlers for each team since 2000
Team Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM v top teams*-ave
South Africa 32 79 29.54 4/ 0 29.66
Pakistan 38 91 32.61 5/ 0 36.34
England 45 94 33.44 4/ 0 37.61
Australia 41 103 33.66 5/ 1 33.66
India 37 85 33.84 2/ 0 34.31
Sri Lanka 39 59 39.84 0/ 0 41.98
Zimbabwe 25 56 39.87 1/ 0 55.32
West Indies 45 99 40.02 2/ 0 44.89
New Zealand 41 62 43.29 3/ 0 45.85
Bangladesh 39 77 48.77 5/ 0 52.08

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).

Debut stats for top-order batsmen (positions 1-7) v each opposition team since 2000
Opposition Batsmen Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s top teams*-ave
India 30 20 1932 41.10 6/ 9 50.10
Bangladesh 30 20 1598 37.16 4/ 3 40.88
New Zealand 27 23 1471 35.87 2/ 9 39.72
Zimbabwe 12 10 481 34.35 0/ 4 29.50
Australia 28 26 1591 33.14 4/ 9 33.14
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
Pakistan 18 18 724 25.85 0/ 5 22.75
England 26 24 766 21.27 0/ 2 23.10

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).

Debut stats for bowlers v each opposition team since 2000
Opposition Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM Top teams*-ave
Zimbabwe 18 70 26.04 4/ 0 23.03
Bangladesh 28 102 26.77 2/ 0 27.66
England 46 101 35.09 4/ 0 33.10
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
India 46 118 38.07 3/ 1 35.69
Sri Lanka 43 94 40.03 3/ 0 34.11
Pakistan 30 38 43.00 1/ 0 37.72
Australia 49 60 60.61 2/ 0 56.16
* Top teams refers to all sides excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by   on (March 3, 2013, 22:03 GMT)

@cloudmess hit the nail on the head regarding England players. It was only when measures were taken to narrow the gap between international and county cricket (e.g. 2 divisions with promotion and relegation, central contracts) that English players adapted quicker to the higher levels of the game

Posted by t20cric on (March 2, 2013, 19:18 GMT)

Pakistan is the 2nd hardest to debut against whether you are a bowler or a batsman and they are the 2nd best to introduce their own new bowlers. The only place where they aren't 2nd is debuting batsmen which makes sense cuz Pakistan isn't very good at batting. Even though Pakistan are 4th in batsmen debuts they still have 6 batsmen who made 100s and 7 who made 50s on debut. That means 13 out of their 31 debut batsmen had good debuts. Pakistan should have been mentioned in this article as much as SA and Australia were.

Posted by Deuce03 on (March 2, 2013, 18:46 GMT)

Something which hasn't been looked at is the age that batsmen were when they were called for debut. For all the debate about England fielding South Africans, and whether they still count if they left South Africa before the umbilical cord was cut or whether they had to have seen at least one ball of cricket first or whatever, it's perhaps worth pointing out that all England's recent SA-born players made their debut when aged 25 or over, so perhaps it's not surprising to see them do reasonably well. The same actually goes for almost all the batsmen on the list, whether English-born or not, to score more than 50 runs on debut: the only exceptions are Cook (21), Bell (22), Root (22) and Trescothick (24). The under-25s as a group have been much less successful on debut, regardless of origin (Bopara, Bairstow, Taylor, Key)

Posted by   on (March 2, 2013, 15:21 GMT)

Once again its Pakistan which is sidelined. Totally deserve special mention rather than india, these 4 tables speaks all about that......

Posted by Soso_killer on (March 2, 2013, 11:46 GMT)

@Munkeymomo actually perplexed's point is valid. Remember its not as if Trott started playing cricket for those two specific year and then left for England. He learnt the nuts and bolts of his cricket here being groomed by the SA junior structures. Look at what the SA under 19 team did to Englands under 19's. South Africas domestic structure especially at grassroots level. England just happens to have the money.

@bestbuddy you have raised a some very good points. However you have to know that England dont need a domestic structure because they could just come here in SA and still our talent. The pound is more powerfull than the rand. The likes of KP, Trott, (Strauss, Prior raw South African talent) etc. Will not be the last South Africans to play for England.

Posted by tickcric on (March 2, 2013, 5:26 GMT)

Posted by klempie on (March 1, 2013, 21:17 GMT). India has 1200m population and NZ has 4m. That does not necessarily mean Indian cricket should be 300 times better than NZ cricket! In a way having a massive population may have detrimental effect on talent. Most of the upcoming players consciously or sub consciously believe they have very little, if any, chance to represent their country precisely because of the massive number of fellow competitors. The point is not about population of the country it is about the strength of domestic cricket. Statistics here indicate Indian players start weaker, at the international level, compared to countries like Australia, South Africa, Pakistan (all with fewer domestic teams). What we need is intense domestic competition. And having fewer but stronger teams (say, 10) can be helpful in this regard. * does not disrespect others opinion, so does not rolls eyes*

Posted by Harsha_Reddy on (March 1, 2013, 23:19 GMT)

did not ganguly score a century on debut..

Posted by cloudmess on (March 1, 2013, 22:59 GMT)

England should be proud of their debutant batting average against the top teams since 2000 (even if the bowling figures are less impressive). In the 1990s, it was quite usual for English debutants, plucked out of 'soft' county cricket, to fail and look out of their depth at the highest level. One lost count of the number of invincible-looking county batsmen who would instantly melt when faced with a test attack. In 1990s, English batsmen who passed 50 on debut: Thorpe, Gough (!), Ealham - and the latter two were bowlers. In 2000s: Trescothick, McGrath, Smith, Strauss, Bell, Pietersen, Cook, Prior, Trott. 1 England batsmen in 1990s made century on debut (and Thorpe was an exception, a very fine batsman); 4 managed it in 2000s.

Posted by klempie on (March 1, 2013, 21:17 GMT)

@tickcric...and you think that 27 teams in a country of 1.2 billion people where cricket is the number one sport is diluting the talent pool? *rolls eyes*

Posted by ahpunjani on (March 1, 2013, 17:26 GMT)

but i am totally amazed by the fact the the author did not have a special mention for pakistan instead india was mentioned more in the categories where it does not required.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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