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Home truths for Sri Lanka and Jacob Oram

Sri Lanka's batsmen have consistently turned it on when playing at home, but most of them have struggled for runs overseas. The same can be said of Jacob Oram the bowler

S Rajesh

March 21, 2008

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Mahela Jayawardene has been an outstanding batsman at home, but he has struggled to repeat those performances overseas © AFP

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, recently talked up his team's ability to perform overseas, and not entirely without justification: the team has won Tests - and drawn series - in England and New Zealand in the last couple of years. Going back a little further, Sri Lanka have won 15 out of 57 Tests away from home since 1995, but the numbers are flattering: five of those wins came in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. While there has been the odd good result in of late, Jayawardene will be aware that plenty more needs to be done if his team are to shrug off the tag of formidable opponents at home but ordinary ones abroad. Their most recent jaunt overseas did nothing to enhance their reputation: they were drubbed in both Tests in Australia, and then failed to make it to the finals of the triangular CB Series.

Over the next couple of weeks the Sri Lankans will get another opportunity to correct their skewed record when they take on West Indies in two Tests. On their two previous tours there, they haven't won a Test, losing two and drawing two.

If the result is to be different this time around, Sri Lanka's batsmen will have to put on the board the kind of runs they usually amass on home turf. Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are among the most talented batsmen in world cricket, but as a unit the Sri Lankan batting outfit has consistently underperformed in unfamiliar conditions. The table below shows that the performance of their top order (Nos. 1 to 7) drops by more than 25% when they travel. This decline is easily the most prominent among all sides; the numbers drop for Australia too, but they still average more than 41 runs per wicket overseas. The South African top order is the only one that scores more heavily abroad than at home.

Top orders of teams home and away since 1995
Team Home Tests Win/ loss Bat ave Away Tests Win/ loss Bat ave Diff in ave
Sri Lanka 60 32/ 11 46.17 57 15/ 27 33.32 12.85
Australia 80 59/ 8 50.08 69 41/ 18 41.41 8.67
Pakistan 49 20/ 14 41.80 69 26/ 28 34.93 6.87
West Indies 62 19/ 19 37.29 73 11/ 51 32.08 5.21
England 84 39/ 23 38.45 76 20/ 29 33.64 4.81
Zimbabwe 38 6/ 21 29.51 35 2/ 24 26.00 3.51
New Zealand 55 21/ 18 34.25 52 11/ 22 30.88 3.37
India 54 23/ 11 41.97 69 17/ 25 40.65 1.32
Bangladesh 25 1/ 21 22.59 28 0/ 26 21.64 0.95
South Africa 74 45/ 14 38.78 64 23/ 20 41.19 -2.41

The problem for Sri Lanka has been the inability of some of their best players to step it up overseas. Among the current lot, the captain himself has been one of the biggest culprits: Jayawardene averages a meaty 66.05 at home, but abroad the number drops by nearly 30 points. The difference was even more glaring for Aravinda de Silva during his last seven years. (Overall, he averaged 52.22 at home, and 36.06 away, a difference of 16.16.) Thilan Samaraweera, another member of the current squad, has a similar home bias.

The batsman who has adapted to overseas conditions better than anyone else has been Sangakkara: he has been more prolific at home than overseas, but even when he has batted in less familiar environs, he has a superb average of 51.44, with three hundreds - including a scintillating 192 against Australia - in his five most recent innings. Marvan Atapattu is the rare example of a Sri Lankan player who performs better away from home, but his numbers are propped up by an average of 114 over seven innings in Zimbabwe.

Sri Lankan batsmen home and away since 1995
Batsman Home Tests Average Overseas Tests Average Difference
Aravinda de Silva 23 65.86 24 35.18 30.68
Thilan Samaraweera 22 56.07 18 25.53 30.54
Mahela Jayawardene 53 66.05 40 36.10 29.95
Hashan Tillakaratne 28 55.70 27 37.97 17.73
Sanath Jayasuriya 54 46.61 40 34.94 11.67
Tillakaratne Dilshan 22 42.93 21 32.68 10.25
Kumar Sangakkara 41 60.70 30 51.44 9.26
Arjuna Ranatunga 21 39.96 18 34.16 5.80
Marvan Atapattu 47 39.85 40 41.63 -1.78
Russel Arnold 25 23.93 19 32.21 -8.28

Sri Lanka's biggest worry abroad has been their batting in the first innings: in their 56 first-innings displays overseas since 1995, they have failed to top 250 a whopping 31 times. On 21 of those occasions they have gone on to lose the game.

In the last 13 years Sri Lanka's average runs per wicket in the first innings overseas is a measly 27.18, ten runs fewer than what their Indian counterparts have managed. Both India and Australia have scored 63 hundreds from 69 such innings, an average of nearly one per innings; Sri Lankan batsmen, on the other hand, have only managed 27 centuries in 56 innings - an average of more than two innings per hundred. In terms of averages, only the minnows Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have fared worse than Sri Lanka.

Teams in the first innings in overseas Tests since 1995
Team Matches Runs* Average 100s/ 50s
South Africa 64 22,112 38.05 50/ 100
India 69 23,850 37.20 63/ 94
Australia 69 22,932 35.11 63/ 91
New Zealand 51 5,074 31.21 31/ 71
Pakistan 68 19,883 29.63 48/ 76
West Indies 73 20,264 28.58 29/ 108
England 76 19,938 27.42 36/ 99
Sri Lanka 56 14,732 27.18 27/ 51
Zimbabwe 35 8083 24.12 13/ 41
Bangladesh 28 4997 17.84 3/ 17
* Only bat runs; excludes extras

Tiger at home, toothless abroad
The most difficult bowler for England to negotiate on their tour of New Zealand has been Jacob Oram: in the 74 overs that he has bowled in the Test series so far, Oram has taken eight wickets, each costing him 14.87 runs. Thirty-one of those overs have been maidens, and on an average he has conceded a niggardly 1.60 runs per over.

But while the conditions at home suit Oram perfectly and allow him to buy his wickets with seam and swing, overseas he is a much less effective force. His career bowling stats present a story of two extremes - extremely effective in New Zealand, but reduced to a trundler elsewhere. His 41 wickets in 13 home games have come at a cost of 18.56, but he has only managed 16 scalps in 14 matches overseas, at an average of 59.25. His strike-rate overseas (130.5 balls per wicket) is more than double the corresponding number at home (52.0). Among bowlers who have bowled at least 1500 deliveries home and away each, Oram's difference in average is exceeded only by one bowler in the history of Test cricket: India's Narendra Hirwani, whose legspin was more than a handful on spin-friendly wickets at home, but who came a cropper on true pitches abroad. The top ten includes two other Indian spinners, and two other New Zealand fast bowlers as well.

Highest difference between home and away Test bowling average (at least 1500 balls in each)
Bowler Home Wkts Average Away wkts Average Difference
Narendra Hirwani 45 16.62 21 59.00 42.38
Jacob Oram 41 18.56 16 59.25 40.69
Basil D'Oliveira 37 32.95 10 64.00 31.05
Tim Wall 37 25.54 19 56.02 30.51
Bryan Strang 40 31.15 16 59.81 28.66
Venkatapathy Raju 71 24.00 22 52.41 28.41
Arshad Ayub 27 25.44 14 53.64 28.20
Champaka Ramanayake 25 30.56 19 58.74 28.18
Darryl Tuffey 46 22.65 20 50.75 28.10
Danny Morrison 115 27.12 45 54.00 26.88

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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