March 29, 2013

Is home advantage on the rise?

India, South Africa and Australia have whitewashed opponents in recent home Test series. Has winning overseas become tougher?

Over the last three months, Test cricket all over the world has largely been about the home team dominating the visiting side. The New Zealand-England three-Test series ended 0-0, but even there New Zealand, clearly the underdogs when the series began, were desperately close to beating the visitors, finally falling short only by one wicket. Around the same time as the New Zealand-England series was unfolding, Australia were getting thrashed 4-0 in India, only the second time in their entire Test history that they have taken such a beating.

Before Australia's clean sweep, there were other recent instances of touring teams being blanked in a series: Pakistan and New Zealand both lost each Test they played in South Africa - Pakistan 3-0, New Zealand 2-0 - while Sri Lanka were thrashed 3-0 in Australia. In 13 Tests played in 2013 (excluding those involving Bangladesh or Zimbabwe), ten have been won by the home team, and three have been drawn.

These results, coupled with India's spectacularly disastrous results in England and Australia have raised fears that Test cricket is increasingly getting skewed by teams winning in home conditions; in other words, most teams are struggling to adapt to conditions they aren't used to. Is that really the case, or is it an alarmist reaction to what is only a three-month phenomenon which has happened because of the quality of teams that have toured? Let's take a closer look at the numbers over the last few years.

The decade-wise stats indicate that, despite the recent skew, the overall win-loss ratio since the 1990s is largely unchanged. Home teams had a win-loss ratio of 1.81 in the 1990s and 2000s, and 1.82 since the beginning of 2010. (All these numbers exclude matches involving Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.)

While India and Pakistan have contributed in diminishing the win-loss ratios for touring sides since 2010 - both have won three Tests and lost ten abroad during this period - other teams have made up for this, thus ensuring that the overall ratios remain more or less the same. South Africa have a 7-1 win-loss ratio overseas during this period, thus helping redress the balance. (Click here for the overseas win-loss records of teams since the beginning of 2010, and here for the home records.)

Win-loss ratios in home Tests in each decade since 1970
Period Tests Won/ lost Drawn W/L ratio
1970s 198 69/ 45 84 1.53
1980s 266 87/ 56 122 1.55
1990s 307 129/ 71 107 1.81
2000s 361 167/ 92 102 1.81
2010s 110 51/ 28 31 1.82
Excludes all Tests in neutral countries

Breaking this up further into year-wise stats, it's clear these win-loss ratios have changed depending on the touring schedules. So, while India had a 1-8 record in away Tests in 2011 and 2012, South Africa, Australia and England had a collective record of 12-3 in overseas Tests during the same period. South Africa won in New Zealand, England and Australia, while Australia had wins in Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies; England had two memorable wins in India, and also won a Test each in Sri Lanka and Australia.

In 2007 the home teams had particularly good records, with overseas sides winning only four Tests and losing 14. South Africa were the only team to have a positive record abroad, winning a series 1-0 in Pakistan. Australia didn't play a single overseas Test that year, while England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka all had identical 0-2 win-loss records abroad. Similarly, in 2009 the overseas stats were poor - six wins and 17 losses - but it so happened that in that year West Indies toured both England and Australia, losing four out of five Tests. Pakistan lost four out of seven overseas games - two in Sri Lanka, and one each in New Zealand and Australia. Australia themselves won three Tests abroad, but also lost as many, in South Africa and England.

Win-loss ratios in home Tests in each year since 2005
Year Tests Won/ lost Drawn W/L ratio
2005 36 17/ 8 11 2.12
2006 42 21/ 9 12 2.33
2007 26 14/ 4 8 3.50
2008 38 16/ 12 10 1.33
2009 38 17/ 6 15 2.83
2010 32 13/ 10 9 1.30
2011 29 12/ 8 9 1.50
2012 36 16/ 10 10 1.60
2013 13 10/ 0 3 -

However, all overseas conditions aren't equally foreign to a touring team: Australia, for example, will be more comfortable with South African pitches and conditions than those in India. Similarly, India would feel more comfortable in Sri Lanka than in Australia or England. Hence, let's club together the Asian countries and check how the teams from outside Asia - Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies - have fared in Asia over the years. (This analysis includes matches played in the UAE, since conditions there are similar to those in the subcontinent.)

The table below shows that home advantage was the least for Asian teams in the 1980s, when they won 15 Tests and lost 14. However, that's also partly because Sri Lanka were still finding their feet as a Test team during that period, and lost four home Tests without winning a single one during that period. Excluding those results, overseas teams had a percentage of 0.67 in Asia during the 1980s (ten wins, 15 defeats), which is still better than the numbers in the subsequent decades.

Since 2010, though, the ratio of wins to losses for overseas teams has dipped even further, to 0.33. All teams except South Africa have a losing record in Asia during this period: Australia have been poor, winning one and losing six; New Zealand are down 1-4, West Indies 0-2, and England 3-5. These numbers suggest that playing in Asia has become more difficult for the non-Asian teams in this decade, though a part of the reason is also the diminishing powers of Australia as a Test force over the last few years.

Decade-wise win-loss record for teams from outside Asia, in Tests in Asia*, since 1970
Period Tests Won/ lost Drawn W/L ratio
1970s 41 7/ 12 22 0.58
1980s 59 14/ 15 29 0.93
1990s 55 10/ 25 20 0.40
2000s 78 18/ 34 26 0.52
2010s 35 6/ 18 11 0.33
* Includes matches played in the UAE

Similarly, teams from Asia have struggled more when playing in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, winning just five matches, against 24 losses since the beginning of 2010. India have been the worst among the subcontinent sides during this period, with a 1-9 win-loss record. Sri Lanka have done slightly better, winning one and losing six, while Pakistan have been the best among the lot, with three wins against nine defeats.

From the 1980s to the 2000s, the win-loss ratios for the subcontinent teams were consistently between 0.36 and 0.38. The fall in ratio to 0.21 suggests that subcontinent teams have become poorer touring sides, just as teams from outside the subcontinent have in general struggled more in Asia over the last three years.

Decade-wise win-loss record for teams from Asia in Tests in Aus, NZ, Eng and SA, since 1970
Period Tests Won/ lost Drawn W/L ratio
1970s 41 8/ 16 17 0.50
1980s 43 6/ 16 21 0.37
1990s 66 12/ 31 23 0.38
2000s 68 13/ 36 19 0.36
2010s 33 5/ 24 4 0.21

All stats exclude matches involving Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter