Abdur Rehman trapped Kevin Pietersen lbw for 32

Never over till it's over: Pakistan managed to win a Test despite being out for 99 on the opening day

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Stats feature

First day first jolt

How do teams cope when they lose a clutch of wickets in the first session? The numbers tell a story

S Rajesh and Shiva Jayaraman |

Sydney, January 3, 2010: In the second match of the three-Test series against Pakistan, Australia won the toss, chose to bat, and then watched in shock as their top order was destroyed by two Mohammads, Sami and Asif. The top three were gone within eight overs, the top six within 22 overs, and after 30, Australia were struggling at 71 for 7. That sort of a start would have, under normal circumstances, led to a resounding defeat, but Pakistan were unusually generous in the field - even by their standards - while Australia were their combative selves. Despite conceding a first-innings lead of 206, they clawed back, thanks to Michael Hussey's unbeaten 134, set Pakistan 176, and ended up winning by 36 runs.

Dubai, February 3, 2012: The hunted in Sydney became the hunters here, when Pakistan turned it around after a woeful first session against England. Like Australia did in Sydney, Pakistan won the toss and batted; like Australia, they collapsed in the first couple of hours: within 11 overs half their side had been dismissed, and after 30, they were 59 for 7. Like Australia, they fought back. They dismissed England cheaply, rode on centuries from Azhar Ali and Younis Khan, and bundled England out for 252 to win by 71 runs.

In most cases, seven down within 30 overs of a Test would mean certain defeat. Yet Australia and Pakistan turned around near-hopeless situations - the only two victories out of the 17 instances since the start of the 2001 Ashes in which teams have lost seven or more wickets within the first 30 overs of a Test. During this period, there have been another 22 instances of teams being six down in the first 30 overs; in five of these cases they were able to turn it around and win the match.

Bowlers never had it easy when Clarke and Ponting got together with Australia three down inside 30 overs

Bowlers never had it easy when Clarke and Ponting got together with Australia three down inside 30 overs © AFP

A clutch of wickets in the first session - usually 30 overs - might also be indicative of a difficult pitch. But more often than not, when four or more wickets fall early, the bowling team has a huge advantage and are well on their way towards victory. Ian Chappell believes three wickets in a session is good progress towards winning a Test. What about two in the first session?

The table below lists the wickets lost at the 30-over mark by teams batting first in a Test, and the number of matches won and lost in each of those cases. For instance, when teams haven't lost a wicket at the 30-over stage in the first innings, they have gone on to win 31 out of 63 matches, and lost only 12. At one down, there have been 59 wins and 34 defeats in 142 matches, which means the loss percentage rises from 19.05 to 23.94. Picking up a second wicket before 30 overs tends to increase the bowling team's chances of victory from 23.94 to 35.88.

From two down to three down isn't a huge increment, but it's a significant shift because bowling teams tend to win more often than they lose when they take three in the first 30 overs. From there, the incremental differences are more than 12 percentage points for the next two wickets. And the winning percentage for the bowling team goes up to more than 50% when they take four opposition wickets in the first 30 overs.

Wickets-wise spilt at the 30-over mark
Wickets lost Matches Won Drawn Lost %lost %incremental
0 63 31 20 12 19.05%  
1 142 59 48 34 23.94% 4.90%
2 131 51 33 47 35.88% 11.93%
3 116 42 28 46 39.66% 3.78%
4 62 17 12 33 53.23% 13.57%
5 38 10 3 25 65.79% 12.56%
6 22 5 1 16 72.73% 6.94%
7 7 2 0 5 71.43% -1.30%
8 5 0 1 4 80.00% 8.57%
9 2 0 0 2 100.00% 20.00%
10 3 0 0 3 100.00% 0.00%
Total 591 217 146 227 38.41%

Since three wickets in the first 30 are the fewest the bowling teams need to take to win more often than they lose, the analysis below will include instances when teams lost three or more wickets in the first 30.

Australia, for instance, have been three or more wickets down inside 30 overs when batting first 31 times, but they have managed to turn it around and win 22 Tests, losing just eight. Against Pakistan in Perth in 2004, they were reduced to 91 for 5 after 30; not only did they win that game, they won it by 491 runs. In Barbados against West Indies in 2008, they recovered from 118 for 5 after 30 overs to eventually win by 87 runs.

There were two Ashes triumphs too: from 137 for 6 at Lord's in 2005 (their scoring rate, despite losing so many wickets, is a dead giveaway of their self-confidence), and from 75 for 5 in Perth in 2010. Out of the 17 times that teams have won Tests despite being five or more wickets down inside 30 overs (since June 2001), Australia have starred six times. Sri Lanka have won three times, all those wins coming in a two-and-half-year period between 2005 and 2007: against West Indies in 2005, and twice against England - at Trent Bridge in 2006, and in Kandy in 2007. New Zealand, Pakistan and India have achieved it twice each, and South Africa and England once.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have both lost more than 90% of their matches when they have lost early wickets, but among the other sides, West Indies and India have the highest loss percentage.

Results when three or more down in 30 overs
Team Matches Won Drawn Lost Loss%age
Aus 31 22 1 8 25.8%
Bang 34 1 2 31 91.2%
Eng 32 13 8 11 34.4%
India 25 6 4 15 60.0%
NZ 22 8 6 8 36.4%
Pak 20 5 4 11 55.0%
SA 21 7 5 9 42.9%
SL 33 12 9 12 36.4%
WI 24 2 5 17 70.8%
Zim 13 0 1 12 92.3%
Total 255 76 45 134 52.5%

As bowling units, South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka generally haven't allowed the opposition to fight back after they have lost early wickets in the opening session. South Africa's win percentage in these matches is 72% - they have won 26 games out of 36, and lost only four. They lost three of those four Tests after taking three wickets in the first 30. The only instance of a team losing more than three wickets and still going on to win a Test against South Africa was Sri Lanka in Durban in 2011, when from 120 for 4 after 30 overs, they went on to register their first Test victory in South Africa.

Sri Lanka have lost five such matches, all against Australia. One of those was a game when Sri Lanka took more than three wickets in the first 30 overs - in Kandy in 2004, when Australia recovered from 83 for 4, and a first-innings total of 120, to win by 27 runs. (In fact, Sri Lanka took the first-innings lead in each of the three Tests in that series and yet lost 3-0.)

Australia haven't lost many of these either, but three of their defeats came after they took five or more wickets in the first 30: on a minefield at the Wankhede in 2004, after they had reduced India to 59 for 6; against New Zealand in Hobart in 2011, from 94 for 6; and against South Africa in Perth in 2012, from 75 for 5.

Bowling team-wise break-up
Team Matches Won Drawn Lost Win%age
Aus 28 18 4 6 64.29%
Ban 10 1 1 8 10.00%
Eng 40 21 5 14 52.50%
India 28 13 7 8 46.43%
NZ 22 10 4 8 45.45%
Pak 32 15 7 10 46.88%
SA 36 26 6 4 72.22%
SL 28 18 5 5 64.29%
WI 25 11 4 10 44.00%
Zim 6 1 2 3 16.67%
Total 255 134 45 76 29.80%

Collapsing against the new ball on a first-day pitch isn't the most unexpected aspect of Test cricket, but it does get embarrassing when it happens after the team has chosen to bat first. In the last six years, India and New Zealand have both been bowled out in under 30 overs after choosing to bat. India were bundled out for 76 by South Africa in Ahmedabad; they went on to lose the Test by an innings and 90 runs. New Zealand were dismissed for 45 in 19.2 overs, also by South Africa, early in 2013 in Cape Town, and lost by an innings and 27.

Teams that have lost three or more wickets in the first 30 have been put in to bat more often than they have chosen to bat, as you would expect. Out of the 197 matches in which teams have been inserted since May 2001, they have lost three or more in the first 30 overs 101 times, a percentage of 51.27; the corresponding percentage for teams batting first is 39.09. The numbers change a bit when the count starts from four wickets instead of three - 35.5% of the time when teams are put in, they lose four or more wickets within 30 overs, while the corresponding percentage for teams batting first drops considerably, to 17.5%.

Losing early wickets after choosing to bat or being put in
>=3 wkts Total matches* Percentage
Put in to bat 101 197 51.27
Chosen to bat 154 394 39.09
>=4 wkts    
Put in to bat 70 197 35.53
Chosen to bat 69 394 17.51

*Total matches when teams have been put in or chosen to bat

There are some venues where batting against the new ball at the start of a Test is more difficult than at others. At the Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy, for instance, in all ten Tests since May 2001, the team batting first has lost at least three wickets in the first 30 overs. The best a team has done in the first 30 is 103 for 3; the worst is 96 for 5. Teams have been five down after 30 overs twice, while they have lost four and three wickets four times each.

On the other hand, at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, there have been no instances in eight Tests of the batting team losing three or more wickets. The worst a team has done here is 66 for 2; the best is 140 for 1. In four out of eight Tests, teams have made more than 100 for the loss of one wicket after 30 overs.

Obviously, things haven't been so easy for teams batting first in some venues outside the subcontinent as well. In Cape Town, teams have lost three or more wickets in 12 of 18 instances; in Perth it's eight out of 13; at Trent Bridge it's seven out of 13; and at Sabina Park, Kingston, six out of 11. The SCG (six out of 15), Headingley (six of 12), Basin Reserve in Wellington (eight of 19), and Lord's (11 out of 29) have been among the more challenging venues over the last 13 years.

Being a part of a struggling West Indian team - and given he usually bats at No. 5 - has meant Shivnarine Chanderpaul has often come in to bat with his team in trouble in the first session. In fact, his two highest scores in Tests - both of 203 not out - were remarkably similar. One came against South Africa in Guyana in 2005, off 370 balls, and included 23 fours; the other was more than seven years later, in 2012 in Mirpur, off 372 balls and included 22 fours. Incredibly, he came in to bat at exactly the same score in both innings - 106 for 3 - once in the 29th over, and once in the 30th.

Chanderpaul scored four other centuries when West Indies lost three or more wickets within 30 overs. Against India in Guyana in 2002, he scored 140. That effort was overshadowed by Carl Hooper's 233 in a high-scoring draw, but in the other three cases he played the lead role: against England at Chester-le-Street in 2007, he came in at 34 for 3 and scored 136 not out in a team total of 287 (next-highest score 44); against New Zealand in Napier in 2008, he entered at 63 for 3 and made 126 not out in a total of 307; and against Australia in Guyana in 2003, he made 100 at No. 6, having come in at 47 for 4, in an innings in which the top five collectively made 39. Overall Chanderpaul averages more than 65 when he has come in within 30 overs, with the team three or more down, and has 12 scores of 50 or more in 23 such innings.

South Africa have a win percentage of 72, the highest among all teams, in matches where their bowlers have dominated the opening day

South Africa have a win percentage of 72, the highest among all teams, in matches where their bowlers have dominated the opening day © Getty Images

Michael Clarke is up there too, as is Mahela Jayawardene, in terms of runs scored. In fact, there are three Sri Lankans in the list of top run scorers, but the one who has had the most success is the least heralded of the three. On 23 occasions when he has batted in such situations, Thilan Samaraweera has averaged 54.09, with five centuries and nine scores of 50 or more. On the other hand, both Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have averaged less than 40 when they have batted in such circumstances.

Of the 14 centuries Samaraweera scored in his Test career, five were made when he came in after Sri Lanka had lost three wickets within the first 30. Some of those weren't in very challenging circumstances but two were priceless. Against Pakistan in Faisalabad in 2004, he scored 100 in a total of 243 after Sri Lanka had slipped to 9 for 3; no other batsman touched 40 in the innings. As the conditions eased up later in the match, Sri Lanka scored 438 in their second innings and ended up winning by 201 runs. Then, in Durban in the Boxing Day Test in 2011, Samaraweera made 102 after coming in at 84 for 3. Sri Lanka scored 338 and eventually won their first Test in South Africa.

Top run scorers when the team is three or more down in 30 overs
Batsman Inns Runs Ave 100s 50s
S Chanderpaul 23 1502 65.30 6 6
MJ Clarke 26 1335 51.35 4 5
DPMD Jayawardene 33 1300 39.39 6 1
TT Samaraweera 23 1244 54.09 5 4
KC Sangakkara 33 1147 34.76 3 6
BB McCullum 18 1029 57.17 4 3
TM Dilshan 22 1020 46.36 3 4
RT Ponting 23 982 42.70 3 3
IR Bell 22 945 42.95 4 4
AB de Villiers 17 817 48.06 2 3

*Includes instances of batsmen in the top four carrying on after at least three wickets have fallen in the first 30

Taking three early wickets on the opening day of a Test should usually be a good omen for the fielding side, but probably not if the batsmen in the middle then are Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting. The three times they have been together when Australia have lost three wickets within 30 overs in the first innings, the least they have added is 113. That was against South Africa in 2009, when they came together at 38 for 3. Australia eventually scored 466 in their first innings and won by 162 runs. The other times, the opposition suffered even more: against Pakistan in Hobart in 2010, Ponting and Clarke came together at 71 for 3, and added 352. Pakistan didn't manage as many in either innings. A couple of years later, India suffered even more in Adelaide in 2012, as they watched a score of 84 for 3 balloon into 470 for 3.

Top batting pairs when the team is three or more down
Batsman 1 Batsman 2 Runs Average Partnerships
RT Ponting MJ Clarke 851 283.67 3
TM Dilshan TT Samaraweera 625 89.29 7
TT Samaraweera KC Sangakkara 564 80.57 7
DPMD Jayawardene TT Samaraweera 481 48.10 10
MEK Hussey MJ Clarke 459 65.57 7
S Chanderpaul D Ramdin 450 112.50 5
BC Lara S Chanderpaul 389 64.83 6
Mushfiqur Rahim Shakib Al Hasan 379 54.14 7
S Chanderpaul DJ Bravo 368 73.60 5
Inzamam-ul-Haq Yousuf Youhana 360 30.00 12

S Rajesh is stats editor and Shiva Jayaraman is stats sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo