May 3, 2013

The curious case of home advantage

Is the IPL creating strong city loyalties that are playing on the minds of away teams?

As world cricket's newest laboratory, the IPL, keeps throwing up observations, it is up to those who play and who administer, and occasionally to those who watch, to come up with rational explanations.

Bowlers, for example, are making a determined comeback largely because this year's IPL has seen, by some distance, the best pitches so far. Indian fielders in their early twenties are looking significantly better than those in their late twenties, which is an indicator of the necessary importance being allotted to it in the formative years. But there is one trend that has me searching for the right reason and it might be worth a debate.

As I write this, 44 games have been played and 32 of those have been won by the home side (as opposed to 32 home wins in all of IPL 2012). I find that staggering for many reasons.

Traditionally cricket and tennis, because they are surface-centric games, have allowed for home advantage. In five-day cricket, and occasionally in ODIs, it is a huge factor. But in tournaments like the IPL, it shouldn't be that way because the conditions don't change much over 40 overs (in any case, in the IPL the differences across cities aren't as pronounced as those, say, between Kanpur and Perth). More so because each team has to have seven domestic players. And these seven aren't segregated based on where they learnt their cricket. So Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have done brilliantly at home, have four players - Shikhar Dhawan, Karan Sharma, Amit Mishra, and Ishant Sharma - from around Delhi. Mumbai Indians, who Sunrisers beat easily in Hyderabad, have as key players Pragyan Ojha and Ambati Rayudu, who learnt their cricket in Hyderabad.

Travel could be a factor. When teams play away they often have a rigorous play-pack-and-move kind of schedule. Occasionally, like one fears with Kolkata Knight Riders, they may have constructed a team for one set of conditions (low, slow in Kolkata) and find they don't have the right people for a hard, bouncy surface.

But it still isn't enough to show a 73% home-win situation. In fact the Sunrisers Hyderabad v Mumbai Indians game was an interesting one to look at. If that surface was indeed made for slow bowlers, Ojha and Harbhajan Singh should have outbowled the opposition, and Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma and Rayudu should have outbatted them. It didn't happen.

I wonder if there are parallels to be drawn from football, where too home sides like to create a fortress. The surface isn't a factor there. The weather might be but that could only be really significant if you are playing in the Russian winter, for example, or playing at high altitude - in Bolivia or Mexico, say. And in any case if Chelsea are a few tube stations away from playing at Arsenal, the conditions shouldn't be a factor at all.

In the next few years the hypothesis that franchise-driven T20 cricket will be closer in its DNA to football and basketball than to traditional cricket will be tested further

The fans make the difference in football, don't they, creating a climate of hostility. Scientists are talking of enhanced testosterone levels when playing at home (apparently the postures of winning, which come from confidence, boost the production of testosterone!). Also, it seems winning at home boosts the androgen receptors in the parts of the brain responsible for motivation more than winning away does.

Maybe, just maybe, the IPL in its sixth year is evolving as a league, creating strong city loyalties (certainly Virat Kohli will have a point of view there!), and playing on the minds of away teams. It is also likely therefore that we may have to look at football and basketball rather than at traditional cricket to explain certain phenomena in T20 leagues.

Football, for example, is telling us that the quality of owner management (brought to the fore by the Blackburn Rovers episode and maybe, in another context, by what happened with Leeds United) could be as big a factor as the innate ability of the players themselves. And therefore, going ahead, this is something that IPL franchises, and specifically their owners, will have to be careful about. Certainly if player skill was the only determining factor, it cannot explain why Pune Warriors have floundered while Sunrisers Hyderabad or Rajasthan Royals have, in a relative sense, flourished.

Maybe a clearer picture will emerge by the end of May, and in the next few years the hypothesis that franchise-driven T20 cricket will be closer in its DNA to football and basketball than to traditional cricket will be tested further. These are exciting times and that is why I often refer to the IPL as a laboratory. But like with those who work in labs, we too must look at these observations with an open mind. Just as a closed mind would have denied us much of the knowledge that has come our way from science, so too will an obsession with the past prevent us from enjoying the future.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2013, 11:59 GMT

    Great Observation once again by Harsha....

    Yes indeed home advantage has always played a part in sport....just to remember the victories that indian team acieved against Steve Waugh's austrailan team and many such victories other then pitches supporting indian spinners , i think crowd support was also a significant factor. Even for that case RCB one of the top four teams in this years IPL did struggle to win matches Away. But all said and done Home advantages cannot alone win matches otherwise the Pune would have definately won few more matches..... i think its finally a depends on team spirit / Confidence / Will to perform.

  • varun on May 4, 2013, 2:04 GMT

    I wonder if this might be a sort of trendsetter in T20 cricket all-over the world,making pitches to the strengths of city teams just like Bengaluru will never make a spin pitch as it likes Chris Gayle to use the best batting conditions and Kolkata will never make a batting paradise with its spin spearhead Sunil Narine in its team.This can be called as footballization of cricket and in near future all cricket playing nations might produce cricket players who take more pride in playing city based T20,rather than donning national colours and playing for the nation.This is just like Lionel Messi who is considered the best soccer player on planet,is known more often to take FC Barcelona to great wins than hitting goals and winning a world cup for Argentina.This is going to completely kill the test cricket as it produces instant money and even domestic players will be more eager to perform in T20 leagues than for the country.Rather than for the country,the crowds wil get more loyal to city.

  • Chaitanya on May 3, 2013, 21:00 GMT

    The home advantage is nothing new in sports and it does not necessarily have to do with the surface. Surface neutral sports like Basketball (NBA), Football and American Football (NFL) have well known home advantage stories.

    As Harsha points out, we are seeing more loyalty for the teams. In the first few years, I would watch all the matches without really caring about who is playing. Now, with packed schedule, I have to choose and I choose to watch 'my team'.

    For the home team, the feeling of having support and encouragement in the home stadium and for the away team, the added pressure of overcoming that plays a major role.

  • Zsam on May 3, 2013, 19:11 GMT

    Pitches can be tailored to home team's strengths, and which is what these IPL sides tend to do to maximize their points in these crucial home situations where this advantage can be extracted. I would say that teams at the moment have a challenge in getting the foreign slots, and if the no. of foreigners per team are increased, we might see more team flexibility and adaptability to away conditions.

  • Dummy4 on May 3, 2013, 18:04 GMT

    It may be self fulfilling prophecy at work. Teams expect to win at home and lose away from home and that is exactly how it pans out. Other than that home teams are teams which fans know in and out. We know that football clubs run their own academies for children who go on to play in age group tournaments, minor leagues and finally in the main leagues. Fans keep track of all up and coming players and accordingly set expectations for future wins. Does it not sound too alien for IPL home teams?

  • Karthik on May 3, 2013, 14:12 GMT

    Home advantage in IPL has been talked about a lot even in the earlier versions of IPL. It is just a gimmick and a way to polarize fans to create more drama and advertisement for the format. The Virat Kohli incident in Mumbai is a good example. IPL needs more than just cricket to keep its audience rooted and all these home advantage talks will create more fan loyalty for teams. Once the loyalty factor gets into the viewers' minds it makes them glued to the games even when they become monotonous. A lot of one sided ashes games in the mid 90s were still sold for full houses not because of the contest but because of the history and rivalry. IPL needs a polarized fan base for its long term survival and the media in partnership with the BCCI has already initiated the divide & conquer policy. This article is one of the building blocks in that process.

  • Dummy4 on May 3, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Birth DNA can`t be changed, but cricket DNA can be!.The flag plays a role here. Prepare the players flags i.e; like player name and photograph and arrange matches in cities ,like Sunrisers Vs Pune Warriors in Chennai , KKRvs MI in Hyderabad etc;.and see whether u are getting crowds OR not. I strongly believe u will get same crowds.U may have to advertise a little more and cut down the price a little. I believe the passion towards game and format of the game will prevail.Only thing is some thing small from our side for something new to happen.

  • Dummy4 on May 3, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    it is because you play 8 matches on home ground and only 1 on ANY of the away grounds, so, after 4 seasons of playing for the same ipl club (e.g. watson for RR), you do get a bit of an experience don't you?

    cricket is not even half as energetic a sport as football, and while fan chanting/booing does have an effect in football, it does not make much of an impact on a cricket match.

  • Arvind on May 3, 2013, 8:15 GMT

    I wonder if the reason is deeper, such as a field created by so many people who would like to create a certain outcome. Research in quantum fields shows that observers affect outcomes, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case here. It could also have a simpler explanation: players tend to play better when they're cheered for.