Roaring at Home but Purring Away?

Roaring at Home but Purring Away?

In the last 10 years (since 2008), India have played 3 series in Australia, and Australia have won all three, and comprehensively. India won just 1 one of the 12 Tests played in these 3 series (Australia won 8 and there were 3 draws). In the same period, Australia toured India 4 times, and lost all 4 series, again very comprehensively, with Australia winning just 1 of the 14 Tests played (India won 10 and there were 3 draws).
In the same 10 year period, England played 2 series against Pakistan in UAE (Pakistan’s designated home) and lost both with a 0-5 win-loss record, while Pakistan played 3 series in England, won none of them and had 4-7 win-loss record (admittedly respectful, but still not in a winning cause).

In the same 10 year period, Sri Lanka toured New Zealand twice, lost both series, with a 0-4 win-loss record, while New Zealand also toured Sri Lanka twice, won neither series, and finished with a 1-3 win-loss record.
There is a perception that modern day Test cricket has become a win-at-home-and-lose-away game. The above examples bear out this assertion, but this piece will delve into whether there is a larger trend (by looking at results in the last 10 years, since 2008), and if yes, whether this trend is a significant deviation from the past. We will also look at which teams have been the most and least dominant both home and away.
Testing the hypothesis
Let us first look at the home and away records of Test teams (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) since January 2008.

Table 1: Home Record of Test Nations since January 2008

Table 2: Away Record of Test Nations since January 2008

It is clear from Tables 1 and 2 that that every team, except West Indies, loses less than 30% of Tests when playing at home, and every team, again with the exception of West Indies, wins at least 50% of Tests (Sri Lanka is at 49%). However, the away records are the inverse for all teams, except South Africa, losing more than 40% of Tests on tour and winning less than 30%.
This record is even more exaggerated if we dive deeper into the above numbers to only look at the record of these teams in alien conditions. We will get a better picture of the inability of teams to adapt to alien conditions if we look at the records of non-Asian teams in Asia and that of Asian teams in the Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand.

Table 3: Records of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Tests in England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand since January 2008


    Table 4: Records of England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan (including UAE) since January 2008

Tables 3 and 4 perfectly illustrate the inability of teams to adjust to difficult conditions. As per Table 3, when the major Asian teams play in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, in conditions that are the most alien to them and therefore the most challenging, they only win about 17% of Tests and lose more than 60% of Tests. As per Table 4, the numbers are almost perfectly inverted when they host these teams, winning more than 60% of Tests and losing only 15%. Same teams, same players, just different conditions.

Is this a deviation from the past?
It is clear from Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4 is that teams have in the last 10 years been dominant at home but poor travelers. However, this recent hullaballoo about modern day Test cricket being a win-at-home-and-lose-away game would not be justified if conditions have always dictated the result. For this analysis, let us look beyond the last 10 years, i.e. the period immediately preceding 2008.

Table 5: Away Record of Test Nations for the period 2001 to 2007

Table 5 clearly shows us that there has been a shift even if we compare the last 10 years to the earlier part of this century. Australia, England, India, Pakistan and New Zealand have been losing much more away from home since 2008. Sri Lanka and West Indies have arguably made marginal improvements, which leaves South Africa as the only Test nation to really buck the trend post 2008.

During the 2001-2007 period there were many iconic away successes such as Australia winning series in India (2004), England (2001) and South Africa (2002 and 2006), India winning in England (2007), England winning in Sri Lanka (2001) and South Africa (2004), South Africa winning in Pakistan (2007), to name a few. Such successes have been few and far between during the last decade. In this context, and in the interest of full disclosure, a rivalry that goes against the grain is the one between Australia and South Africa. Since 2008, Australia have toured South Africa with success, 4 times, losing just once (2018) and winning twice (2009 and 2014), while South Africa have also toured Australia with success, 3 times, and winning all 3 times (in 2008-09, 2012-13 and 2016-17).

In a nutshell, the Australia-South Africa rivalry notwithstanding, teams have overall, inarguably been worse in Tests away from home in the last 10 years.

The best and worst travelers
A champion touring team that shines through from all of the above is South Africa. While all the other sides have been losing more than 40% of Tests on tour, South Africa have been losing only 27.5% of their away Tests. Even more creditable is that they have actually been winning 41.2% of away Tests while all the other teams have been winning less than 30% of the their away Tests. Nothing underlines South Africa accomplishment more than their 15-away-series unbeaten streak till 2015, which started in 2007.

Table 6: South Africa’s unbeaten streak in away Test series between 2007 and 2015

As part of this almost unbelievable streak during a 10-year period when other teams across the world were struggling away from home, South Africa won away series against England, Australia, Pakistan (both in Pakistan and the UAE), Bangladesh, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The only country where they were unable to win was India, where they drew 2 series in 2008 and 2010. This incredible run also eventually ended in India, when they were beaten 3-0 in 2015.
Like South Africa, whose away record is head and shoulders above the rest of the world, India’s home record in this period has been special. As we see from Table 1, India is the only team to lose less than 10% of home Tests since 2008. While their win percentage (65.5%) at home is not too different from that of Australia (64.9%), Australia have lost twice as many Tests at home compared to India.

Another unfortunate fact that stares us in the face from all of the above analysis is West Indies’ decline as a Test nation. Despite winning two World T20s since 2008 (in 2012 and 2016), they have by far the poorest win percentage in home Tests (30.6%), and unfortunately, their win percentage in away Tests (13.3%) is more than twice as bad as their already poor home record. West Indies’ loss percentage in away Tests (57.8%) is identical to that of New Zealand (57.8%), but New Zealand’s do win more (22.2%).

In summary, the best Team at home is India, and the best tourists are South Africa. West Indies are not only the worst team at home, but also the worst team away, with New Zealand being only marginally better tourists.
This piece does not attempt to carry out a qualitative analysis of the reasons behind the teams’ deteriorating performance away from home. Whatever the reason, whether underprepared pitches, excessive influence of the T20 format or reducing focus on defensive batting technique, there is undoubtedly an issue that needs to be addressed if the popularity of the Test format is to be preserved.

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