Test cricket is a metaphor for life. The ups and downs, mini battles, dominant phases, grey patches, confidence crises situations, partnerships and so on. While life may or may not provide a chance of redemption, Tests always do.

After the end of the second innings of the match (the first innings of both teams), some teams are so far behind the eight ball that a comeback seems next to impossible. In a few cases, however, they may still have a chance to escape with a draw. Does grabbing the lead mean that victory is certain? Not quite, as we all know. What lead guarantees victory or ensures that the team will not lose? On the other hand, what deficit margin pretty much ends a team’s chances of staying alive?

In this piece, let’s analyze different lead & deficit categories (classified by the margin of runs) and understand the various patterns that emerge by team, opposition, decade and result of match.

Category classification (considers matches only where there have been a second innings played)

* When teams have ended at the same score after the 1st innings, the respective innings (0-run lead) are considered under category L1. So D1 would technically have all deficits from 1-49 runs.

* Leads and deficits correspond to the team that has batted in the second innings of the match. For example, if we consider the Kolkata Test in 2001, India (the team that batted in the second innings of the match) ended with a deficit of 274 runs. In the 3rd Test of the same series in Chennai, India batted in the second innings again and ended with a lead of 110 runs.

*All stats updated before the start of the 1st Test between India & Sri Lanka and the 3rd Test between England & South Africa.

Overall distribution of leads & deficits

Of the 1053 times teams have ended with leads, they have ended with a lead of 100-199 runs (L3) 290 times (28%). L1 and L2 also have a fairly significant proportion (~21%) followed by L4 (20%). High leads (L5 and L6) have been achieved on fewer occasions.

On the deficit front (total 1193 occasions), D3 has the highest representation (31%) followed by D4 (20%). D1 and D2 are next, with a proportion of 19%. As in the case of the leads, the massive deficits form a very small proportion (D5 – 9%, D6 – 2%).

Lead & Deficit distribution (by team)

Note: Considering all Test teams except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Does the distribution for leads and deficits exhibit a consistent pattern for each team?

A closer look suggests quite a bit of variation. India have had 28% of their leads fall in the L1 category. The corresponding numbers for England and West Indies are 25% and 23%. Sri Lanka have a very low % in L1 (15%). The L2 category has a much more even distribution (range from 19% to 23% for seven of the eight teams considered). However, Sri Lanka have a low % in this category too (13%).

Six of the eight teams have their highest proportion of leads in L3. Only three teams (Australia, New Zealand, and West Indies) have > 20% proportion in L4. Perhaps their overwhelming dominance for over two decades before the turn of the century contributes to the high proportion (28%) for West Indies in L4.

In the last two categories (L5 and L6), Sri Lanka have a major proportion (15% and 11%). However, this is because of a a number of one-sided wins over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe; Sri Lanka’s proportion of L5 and L6 drops from 25% overall (matches including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) to just over 16% in matches excluding the two teams.

On the deficit front, Australia have a high proportion in D1 (28%). In contrast, the corresponding proportion for South Africa in D1 is just 14%. India, Pakistan, and South Africa have a high proportion of deficits in D2. Seven of the eight teams considered have the highest proportion of deficits in D3. While six teams have a significant proportion (>= 20%) of deficits in D4, Australia and England have the lowest (15% and 17% respectively).

In the last two categories (D5 and D6), New Zealand, West Indies, and Sri Lanka have the highest proportion (14%, 12% and 11%). Interestingly, England have had massive deficits (D6) on 4% of the occasions, the highest proportion among all teams considered.

Lead & Deficit distribution (by opposition)

The lead distribution against various opposition teams presents an interesting pattern. The combined proportion (L1 and L2) is the highest when Pakistan is the opposition (54%) followed by matches against South Africa (49%). The lowest proportion of L3 is in matches against Pakistan (20%) while the highest (32%) is in matches against Australia.

In matches against Australia and South Africa, the L4 category has the lowest proportion (16%). The highest proportion of huge leads (L5 and L6) has come in matches against India and Sri Lanka (15% each).

Teams have faced deficits in D1 on 28% of the occasions they have played against Pakistan. The corresponding number is lowest in matches against Australia (14%). In D2, the proportion is highest in matches against Pakistan (25%) followed by New Zealand (24%).

In matches against Australia, teams have faced deficits in D3, 38% of the occasions. The corresponding proportion against other teams ranges from 23% to 32%. While the distribution is more or less even in the D4 category, the deficit proportion in the D5 category is highest in the case of matches against England (12%) followed by New Zealand and South Africa (10%). The highest proportion of deficits in the D6 category have come in matches against Sri Lanka and West Indies (5% and 4%).

Lead & Deficit distribution (by decade)

Over the years, Test cricket has witnessed several changes – including the transition from uncovered to covered pitches, modifications in the LBW law and the bouncer rule etc. These changes significantly impacted the batting stats over the decades. Has a similar transition panned out when it comes to leads and deficits? A detailed look at the numbers suggests that the proportion of L1 is the highest in the first two periods (pre 1900s – 36% and 1900s – 43%). In these periods, the proportion of L3 was second to that of L1.

Over the course of the next four decades (1910s to 1940s), there was an increased proportion of leads in the categories L3 and L4. The proportion of L1 dipped in the 1960s but has been more or less consistent in the decades starting with the 1950s. The proportion of leads in the L5 and L6 category has been 19% in the 2000s and 2010s. The last decade it was this high was the 1940s when the number of Tests played was much lower because of the war.

The proportion of deficits in the D1 category has hovered around the 17-20% mark except for a high in the 1960s (27%) and a low in the 2010s (13%). In the pre 1900s, the proportion of D3 was just 19% but rose rapidly over the next two decades (42% and 47%). Since then, the proportion of D3 has been close to 30% throughout except for a blip in the 1960s. In the first six periods, the proportion of D5 was between 13% and 14% on four occasions. However, this mark was never reached again until the 2010s when it touched 13% again. The highest deficit category (D6) had its highest representation in the 1920s and 2000s (5% each).

Lead & Deficit distribution (by result)

It’s time to get into the most useful analysis – the lead/deficit distribution based on the result of the match. In wins, the highest proportion of leads is in the L3 and L4 category (29% and 27%). Only 13% of wins have come when leads fall in the L1 category. The corresponding figure in the L2 category is 16%.

Almost 53% of the draws have come when leads are in the L1 and L2 category. Interestingly, the highest proportion of draws (29%) has occurred when the lead is in the L3 category. 80% of the losses have come when leads are in the L1 or L2 category. Less than 2% of losses come when the leads are in the L4-L6 categories.

When it comes to the deficits, we can observe an interesting pattern. There is a continuous drop in the proportion of wins as we move from D1 (52%) to L6 (0%). Draws, however, paint a different picture. Nearly 81% of the drawn matches have had deficits in the first three categories (D1-D3). In the case of losses, we observe that only 27% of losses feature deficits in the D1 & D2 categories. The contribution of D3 & D4 is the highest in losses (total of 57%).

Lead & Deficit distribution (by result & team)

In the team-wise results analysis, we find that 50% of Australia’s wins have come when they have had leads in the L3 and L4 categories and 13% of wins when they have had small deficits (D1 and D2). The proportion of wins when teams have had leads in the L3 and L4 categories is quite consistent across teams; the range is between 42% (South Africa) and 57% (Pakistan). New Zealand have the highest proportion of wins among all teams when the deficit has been in the D1 or D2 categories (22%).

When it comes to the huge leads (L5 and L6), Sri Lanka have a high proportion of wins (27%). At the other extreme are West Indies, with just 9% of wins when the lead falls in the L5 and L6 categories.

Teams have had a very high proportion of draws (range from 38% to 50%) when they have had deficits in the D1-D3 categories. This certainly does indicate that any lead below 200 does present an opportunity for the opposition to stay in the contest. On the lead front, the L1-L3 category range contributes to nearly 35%-40% of the draws. Sri Lanka, interestingly, have the highest contribution from the L5 & L6 categories to draws (9% in total).

When it comes to the losses, we can see that D3 has contributed to nearly 30% of the losses for England and West Indies. Only Australia and England have a proportion of losses less than 20% when the deficit is in D4. Pakistan (30%) and Sri Lanka (28%) have the highest proportion of losses for the D4 category.

Australia have suffered 23% of their losses when the lead has been in L1 or L2 categories. Most teams have hardly lost when the leads have been in the categories L4-L6. However, Pakistan (9%), South Africa (7%), and Sri Lanka (6%) have lost more often despite having a sizeable lead. Sri Lanka, notably, lost to Australia at the SSC in 1992 despite having a massive 291-run lead. Pakistan did lose to England despite having a 331-run lead at The Oval in 2006. However, England won that game because Pakistan forfeited after the ball-tampering controversy.


What does all this tell us? Teams can stage a comeback, and even harbor hopes of a win when the deficits lie in the first three categories (under 199 runs). Nearly 95% of wins after trailing have come when the deficit lies in the D1-D3 categories.

On the other hand, to be certain of a win, teams have to ensure a lead in categories L3 and above – more than 100 runs. Close to 80% of the losses after taking a lead have come when teams have had small leads (L1 and L2 categories).

When it comes to draws, around 80% of the total draws are achieved when teams have leads in the categories L1-L3 or deficits in the D1-D3 categories.

There might be the odd exception, such as the Eden Gardens Test of 2001, but it is more or less a lost cause when a team has such a massive deficit at the end of their first innings.

While there have been a couple of decades where the pattern (of leads and deficits) has been quite different, the trend over the last 3 decades points to a consistent distribution of leads and deficits across the various categories. As is often the case with most distributions, the majority of the leads and deficits for each team is more or less in the middle category (L3 and D3).