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Is 'Home Advantage' the critical factor in Test cricket?

Some concrete steps are necessary to balance the skewed W/L ratio in the home and away locations of International cricket teams, especially in the longer format. These are not good signs for a competitive sport.

Australia lost the Ashes 2015

Australia gets out for mere 60 runs. They lose the Test match by an innings. These are not the events from any fictional story. This is the result of the fourth Test of the Ashes 2015. In a series of such events, England, who couldn’t even qualify for the knock-out stage in the World Cup 2015, has demolished the Australian attack in the ongoing Ashes so easily that it has left every cricket fan flabbergasted. It’s quite difficult to believe the losing team is the defending champions in the ODIs and second-ranked in the Tests.

What's going so wrong that the team which once ruled the World of Cricket? Has England performed extraordinarily or has Australia shied away from giving their hundred percent in front of the hosts?

This hasn’t been the only story in the recent past. The teams who played in the home conditions have always performed way better than their standards. The roaring crowd, the familiar pitch and the used to weather conditions. The home team has its own advantages which truly shifts the balance of the game.

Pitch

It generally has been a trend that pitches would generally be prepared suitable to the strengths of the home team. Hence, it’s not a surprise to see the turning pitches in the sub-continental countries, the bouncing pitches in Australia or the swinging pitches in England.

Again the nature of the pitch affects the structure of the team. The Asian countries don’t hesitate to include one or more spinner while South Africa, Australia, England and New-Zealand largely depend upon the fasters.

India included four spinners in the squad when Australia toured India in 2012-13 while Australia had only Nathan Lyon as a prominent spinner. The Indian spinners managed 65 wickets and Australians got whitewashed. This result was the exact reversal of the earlier clash between the same teams where Australia was the host. The Indian spinners had been neutralized and the Australian pacers had struck the visitors hard to win the each Test match of the series.

It’s not only about bowlers, but batsmen also struggle to adjust to the new conditions. One or two practice matches are not enough and that too when hosts play the secondary team. The batsmen of the visiting team take time to adapt and by that time series gets over.

The reasons stated above raises the importance of the experienced players in the team. But, many of the teams have been in the transition phase and new players have been getting introduced to the longer format of the cricket which is not as easy as playing the shorter formats like the ODIs and the T20Is.

The absence of experienced players

The legendary players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, Jacque Kallis etc. retired from the cricket in the post-2011 World Cup due to lack of form, age, and other factors. These are the players who could adapt to any conditions and go on to play their natural game. Though teams were not invincible, they could at least avoid the disastrous and landslide defeats in the overseas Test matches.

So it becomes important to analyze the various teams’ performance in this time period:

Teams HOME AWAY
Win Loss W/L Ratio Win Loss W/L Ratio
AUS 15 2 7.5 9 13 0.69
ENG 19 3 6.33 4 11 0.36
IND 11 1 11 2 15 0.13
NZ 6 1 6 7 13 0.53
SA 12 4 3 7 1 7
WI 9 9 1 3 10 0.3
BAN 3 7 0.42 1 5 0.2
SL 7 6 1.16 4 10 0.4
PAK 9 3 3 8 9 0.88
ZIM 3 5 0.6 0 6 0

It’s ironic that the team India, which has the highest win-loss ratio in the home has the second lowest ratio for the away matches. The Indian batsmen who usually play well on the spinning tracks have failed on the bouncy and swinging pitches. The bowlers also couldn’t make much impact.

The team like Australia seem to have a fair number of away wins, but it includes four wins against West Indies which is a comparatively weaker team. The same logic applies to other teams like Pakistan and New-Zealand who played a good number of Test matches against lower ranked Test teams.

The only team which has been invincible in any away Test series is South Africa. The last Test series they lost was against Sri Lanka way back in 2006.

Need to balance the away factor

India last played home Test match was in November 2013 against West Indies. It clearly shows that India’s poor ranking has been affected a lot due to the frequent away games in the last two years. Yes, the Indian team has not been a top team, but it also has not been too weak to get 7th ranking in the Tests which they ultimately got in April 2015.

Somewhere there is a need to diminish the effect of the away factor. It can be done in two ways,

  1. Play the equal number of away and home games.

  2. Prepare the balanced team for the away matches.

The second option is a permanent solution.

It’s not a big deal for sub-continent nations to perform at each other’s venues, but they get troubled when they face the bouncy and swinging surfaces. So it becomes important for them produce a prodigy of bowlers and batsmen who find it easy with the pitches having the same pace and bounce.

There are some pace bowler foundations in India and they have given some good bowlers. The problem is they never get practiced on the pitches similar to those in Australia or England. 

Playing county cricket can be a very good option for any sub-continent player to improve his overseas performance. Recently, Cheteshwar Pujara played few matches for Yorkshire which really represents a good example.

For other than sub-continent teams, IPL has been a very good platform for their players to get an idea of Indian pitches which they should utilize at their highest level. The constraint for them have been producing the quality spinners. Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali are amongst the very few examples who have been successful creating the impact.

Everyone wants to win at home, but a victory looks more beautiful and deserving if the opposition is given the equal opportunity. Hence, it is important for cricket to reduce the effect of home advantage and make it more of a fair sport.  

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