Numbers Game June 13, 2014

Debutants and their smashing starts

Mark Craig's haul of 8 for 188 was the best by a New Zealander on debut, and made him the tenth debutant to win the MoM award since 2011

Mark Craig became the first New Zealand player to win the Player-of-the-Match award on debut in an overseas Test © Associated Press

When Mark Craig was selected in New Zealand's Test squad for the tour to the West Indies, he did so despite a modest record in domestic cricket: in first-class cricket, his offspin had fetched 43 wickets from 22 games, at an average of 42.88. His current form didn't suggest he was a hot pick either: in the 2013-14 season, he'd taken 22 wickets from nine first-class matches, at 39.72; in the previous season, he'd managed 15 wickets from eight games at 44.46. Only twice in those 15 matches had he taken more than three wickets in an innings.

All of that, of course, counted for nothing when he made his Test debut against West Indies in Jamaica earlier this week. Whereas his last 66 overs in domestic first-class matches had fetched him only two wickets, 39 overs at Sabina Park brought him a rich haul of eight wickets. The late assault by Shane Shillingford and the other West Indian tail-enders spoilt his figures a bit, but he still finished with 8 for 188, the best figures by a New Zealand debutant. The record had previously belonged to Paul Wiseman, another offspinner, who'd taken 7 for 143 against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1998. Shillingford's big hits meant that Craig's economy rate went up to 4.82, the fourth-highest ever for a New Zealand debutant who bowled at least 20 overs, but that was exactly Shane Bond's economy rate in his debut Test, against Australia in Hobart. However, while Craig picked up eight wickets here, Bond finished with figures of 1 for 135 from 28 overs.

Apart from finishing with the best figures for a New Zealand debutant, Craig also had the honour of winning the Man-of-the-Match award, becoming only the 37th player in Test cricket, and the third New Zealander, to be named Player of the Match on debut. The two before him were both batsmen: Stephen Fleming scored 16 and 92 against India in Hamilton in 1994, while Mathew Sinclair did it with more flourish, scoring 214 against West Indies in Wellington. Both these players made their debuts at home, though, which makes Craig the first from New Zealand to win the award on debut in an overseas Test.

The table below lists, country-wise, the 37 players who've won the Man-of-the Match award on debut. Australia lead with seven such players, including a couple of offspinners, Peter Taylor (against England) and Jason Krejza (against India). The first player to achieve this was Australia's Kepler Wessels, who scored 162 and 46 on debut against England in 1982 Ashes at the Gabba. Wessels later played for South Africa too, and didn't do badly in his first Test for them either, scoring 59 and 74 against West Indies. South Africa lost that Test quite dramatically, though, collapsing for 148 after being 123 for 2 when chasing 201 in the fourth innings. More recently, they've had two fast bowlers making exceptional debuts within a couple of weeks of each other: Pat Cummins against South Africa, and James Pattinson against New Zealand.

England have six such performers, but none since Andrew Strauss in 2004. India and South Africa have climbed up the charts recently with three debutant awards since 2001 - R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma for India; Vernon Philander, Faf du Plessis and Kyle Abbott for South Africa. The only team with no Man-of-the Match awards for debutants is Sri Lanka.

Man-of-the-Match awards on Test debut
Team Number Players
Australia 7 Kepler Wessels, Peter Taylor, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clark, Jason Krejza, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson
England 6 Phil Newport, Graham Thorpe, Dominic Cork, Richard Johnson, James Kirtley, Andrew Strauss
India 5 Pravin Amre, RP Singh, R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma
Pakistan 5 Mohammad Zahid, Azhar Mahmood, Mohammad Sami, Yasir Hameed, Fawad Alam
South Africa 5 Andrew Hudson, Jacques Rudolph, Vernon Philander, Faf du Plessis, Kyle Abbott
Bangladesh 3 Javed Omar, Mohammad Ashraful, Elias Sunny
New Zealand 3 Stephen Fleming, Mathew Sinclair, Mark Craig
West Indies 2 Pattrick Patterson, Franklyn Rose
Zimbabwe 1 Hamilton Masakadza

While there are 37 instances of match awards for debutants, only 14 of them have come in overseas Tests, which indicates how much more worthy Craig's effort has been. The first such effort was by Hudson against West Indies in 1992, while Pravin Amre followed soon after in Durban. After 1992, the next such effort came only in 2001, when Mohammad Sami took 8 for 106 in Auckland. Two more such performances happened that year, by Javed Omar and Mohammad Ashraful. Australia have four such overseas performers on debut, but all six of England's star debutants won their awards in home Tests.

There are six bowling performances among the 14, but not all of those bowlers have gone on to great things through the rest of their careers. Stuart Clark was outstanding in a relatively brief career for Australia, taking 94 wickets from 24 Tests at 23.86, but Mohammad Sami (85 wickets at 52.74), RP Singh (40 wickets at 42.05) and Jason Krejza (13 wickets at 43.23) have all had less than impressive international careers.

Even from the full list of 37, there are several bowlers who didn't have fulfilling Test careers: Mohammad Zahid, Phil Newport, Richard Johnson and James Kirtley all played fewer than six Tests, while Franklyn Rose and Peter Taylor played fewer than 20. Given that New Zealand don't have a long list of spin options in their domestic ranks, they'll hope that Craig goes the way of Dominic Cork or R Ashwin or Philander, and not some of the other names listed here.

In fact, among all those 37 bowlers, the leading wicket-taker is Cork with 131, while Philander and Ashwin are the only others who've taken more than 100 wickets.

Debutants with MoM awards in overseas Tests
Team Number Players
Australia 4 Michael Clarke, Stuart Clark, Jason Krejza, Pat Cummins
South Africa 3 Andrew Hudson, Jacques Rudolph, Faf du Plessis
Bangladesh 2 Javed Omar, Mohammad Ashraful
India 2 Pravin Amre, RP Singh
Pakistan 2 Mohammad Sami, Fawad Alam
New Zealand 1 Mark Craig

While some of those debutants haven't gone on to greats things in the past, there's little doubt that in the last three years, there have been more stand-out performances by players making their debut than in the past. Since the beginning of 2011, there've been 129 players who've made their Test debuts (excluding the ongoing Lord's Test between England and Sri Lanka), and the specialist batsmen among (those batting in the top seven) have averaged 31.53, while the bowlers have taken 232 wickets in all, at an average of 32.31. More importantly, in the context of this analysis, they've won ten Man-of-the-Match awards during this period, out of 37 that've been won overall. In the 11-year period between 2000 and 2010, there were only 14 such awards, among 430 debutants. Since 2011, debutants have won ten awards out of 133; between 2000 and 2010, they contributed only 14 out of 510. Before 2000, there were 631 instances when a Test had a Man of the Match, out of which a debutant won it 13 times. Craig is the latest in a line of debutants who've had smashing starts; hopefully he'll go on and build on it better than some of the others have.

Debutants with bat and ball over the years
Period Debutants Top 7-Inngs Average 100s/ 50s Wickets Average MoM awards
2011 onwards 129 122 31.80 6/ 17 232 32.31 10
Jan 2000 to Dec 2010 430 369 31.87 23/ 46 643 38.33 14
Jan 1982 to Dec 1999 592 480 25.51 17/ 51 807 38.52 13

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