Why home advantage makes a difference
Chris Gayle has registered the highest individual score by a batsman in Twenty20s. Last year's table-toppers in the league stage, Delhi Daredevils and eventual champions Kolkata Knight Riders are both struggling to make it to the playoffs. However, the most fascinating aspect of IPL 2013 so far has been the manner in which most teams have dominated at home.
At the end of the double-header on May 2, more than 70% of the games were won by teams playing at home. This is in contrast to the outcomes of four previous IPL editions, barring the one in 2009 that was played in South Africa. The most successful edition for home teams was the fourth one in 2011 when a little over 55% (32 of 58) games were won by the home teams.
What's even more interesting is the fact that well into the second half of this edition, four teams - Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad - are yet to lose a home game. Only twice in the IPL has it happened that a team has managed to hold its own fort all through the tournament. And on both those occasions - Rajasthan Royals in 2008 and Chennai Super Kings in 2011- the said teams took the title.
So what is it that has helped the teams convert their home grounds into fortresses?
"From the Sunrisers' perspective, it's not that we have won only at home. We have been doing well even outside," mentor Kris Srikkanth says. "And it's not just us. Most of the teams have been doing well at home this year. If I have to pinpoint as to why it is happening, all I can think of is it's quite like international cricket. Most of the teams do well in their home conditions. Same has been the case with the IPL this year."
Home advantage plays a greater role in bilateral tours, where the visiting players sometimes find it difficult to adjust to alien conditions. But in the annual IPL, where most of the Indian players have experienced playing at the various IPL venues, how can a team exploit the home conditions to its advantage?
"One of the things that works for us is we have a slightly more intimate knowledge of our pitch, dimension of the field, length of the boundaries and which is the bigger boundary," says Rajasthan Royals head coach Paddy Upton. "We have slightly better knowledge of that compared to what the visiting team has. I wouldn't call it a game breaker but that helps us in how we put up our strategy against the opposition.
"There's nothing else that really stands up. We all understand the oppositions equally well. We understand the [other] grounds as good as others. We're able to understand how the opposition pans out. The knowledge of the home ground is only a very minor advantage. I would not say it's a game changing advantage. Because the teams are getting to know each other so well, such a minor advantage may have been resulting between a victory and a loss in a tournament as close as the IPL."
Royals are the only team in IPL history to have won more than twice their games at home than their losses. As for Royal Challengers, till their victory against Pune Warriors in Pune on Thursday night, they had won all their home games but hadn't won a single away fixture.
Interestingly, this is in contrast to their record last season, when they won five of their eight away games. "Last year, our away record was better than our home record so I can't really put my finger on the exact reason why we are winning at home this season," says coach Ray Jennings. "Perhaps it is the momentum - mood of winning - that has helped us because sides do not often win four or five matches in a row. Perhaps the players know the pitch better but not to the extent that we have a 100% record at home and the same away."
Royal Challengers' success rate has been largely dependent on Gayle's performance at the top of the batting order, especially since the last season. In 2012, Gayle's away record (539 runs at 89.83) was far better than that at home (194 runs at 32.33). And the team lost four of their seven home games last year. This year, Gayle has been virtually unstoppable at home, scoring 427 runs from six innings, including two fifties and an astonishing unbeaten 175. On the other hand, he has tallied just 78 runs away from home in five games, with just one score of 30-plus.
Another big factor about playing at home, Jennings pointed out, is a team usually remains unchanged as opposed to away matches where the team selection can change depending on the pitch and conditions. "A settled combination and in-form players performing are factors. Also not traveling every second day could be a factor," Jennings said. "Rhythm of an individual, rhythm of combinations plays an important role. When you lose you try different permutations which affects the team dynamics and plays a role in the end result."
This may well have been a factor for Chennai Super Kings' record run of seven victories, including three successive wins at home. They played three home games within a span of seven days and hardly changed their combination.
While Super Kings have emerged as the most consistent outfit - and the only one to maintain a 100% record away from home - Mumbai haven't lost at home despite their inconsistent run on the road. Mumbai, along with Super Kings and Royal Challengers, also enjoy the most vocal crowd support.
"It's always important to win as many games as possible at home. We're trying to win as many as we can at the Wankhede [Stadium]. We want to make it our fortress. We want to make this our den and people should fear coming to Mumbai to play," said Rohit Sharma, who took over the Mumbai captaincy from Ricky Ponting.
With additional reporting from Nagraj Gollapudi
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo