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Outmatched and out-tossed

Overseas teams have had no luck with the toss in Tests in Asia over the last year ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Overseas teams have been on a hiding to nothing in Test matches in Asia over the last year. Since October 2015, there have been four completed Test series in Asia - England in the UAE, West Indies and Australia in Sri Lanka, and South Africa in India - plus the first Test of New Zealand's ongoing tour to India. Thirteen Tests have been played in these series, of which 11 have been won by the Asian team, and only two have been drawn, one of them due to inclement weather during the India-South Africa Test in Bangalore last November.

For non-Asian teams, playing Tests in India, Sri Lanka and the UAE are anyway among the toughest assignments in world cricket. Over the last year, things have been even more difficult because of the toss result: the overseas teams have lost the toss in each of those 13 Tests. In all but one of those games, the home team has batted first, usually when the pitch is at its finest, forcing the visitors to bat last in conditions loaded in favour of spin bowling. The only exception to the toss rule was that Bangalore Test against South Africa, when India chose to field first. That move worked perfectly for the hosts too, as South Africa were bowled out for 214 and India were 80 without loss before rain washed out the last four days of the match.

The toss disadvantage is a significant one in Asia, but home teams haven't always made huge first-innings totals and sealed the game at that stage. The highest first-innings total in these games is Pakistan's 523 for 8 declared against England in Abu Dhabi, but that was in a drawn game: England replied with 598 for 9 declared, and then bowled Pakistan out for 173 in their second innings and clearly had the upper hand in the draw. Apart from that game, though, there is only one 400-plus first-innings total in 11 other games, and six totals below 300.

In fact, the overall average runs per wicket in the first innings of the 12 Tests when the team winning the toss has batted, is only 31.11. On more than one occasion, teams have ended up with totals that are far from match-winning. For instance, Sri Lanka scored 200 against West Indies in Colombo, India managed 201 against South Africa in Mohali and 318 against New Zealand in Kanpur, Pakistan made 234 against England in Sharjah and Sri Lanka made 117 in Pallekele and 281 in Galle. In most of these instances, the overseas teams would have been reasonably happy with the state of the game at that point.

On four of these 12 Tests, the overseas teams have gone on to take the first-innings lead, with the highest of those leads being Australia's 86-run advantage in Pallekele (which should have been higher given that they had bowled Sri Lanka out for 117). England led by 75 in Abu Dhabi (in the drawn game) and by 72 in Sharjah, while Australia led by 24 after their first innings in Colombo. Then there was the Mohali Test, when South Africa only trailed by 17, and even Kanpur, when despite India's tenth-wicket stand and New Zealand's collapse, the deficit was only 56.

* Excludes West Indies' 227 in Galle, when they followed on and lost the Test
These numbers indicate that overseas teams have done fairly well to overcome the disadvantage of losing the toss, and stayed in the hunt through the first two innings of Tests in Asia. The telling blow has often come in the third innings, when the Asian teams have amassed huge totals (in the context of the conditions) despite the pitch usually offering more help to bowlers. That has often left overseas teams with impossible fourth-innings targets, making the result a forgone conclusion. In fact, in these 12 Tests, the average first-innings deficit for the overseas teams is 62 runs, but the average victory margin in the ten Tests which were won by runs is 164. That indicates how the Asian teams have often run away with the game in the last two innings.

The average runs per wicket in the third innings of these 12 Tests is 32.36, which is marginally higher than the first-innings average. That is partially due to declarations is some instances, but the fact that there are five 340-plus scores in the third innings - when the conditions should generally be far more difficult for run-scoring than in the first - indicates that overseas teams have often lost the plot during this period. That happened with England in Sharjah, when Pakistan scored 355 - the highest total of the match - after conceding a first-innings lead of 72; in Pallekele, when Sri Lanka turned around an 86-run deficit with 353 in the third innings against Australia; in Colombo, when they again overturned a first-innings deficit by scoring 347 for 8; and by India most recently in Kanpur, when they declared at 377 for 5, again the highest total of the match.

* The third innings of this Test was by West Indies, who followed on and lost by an innings
In the third innings, it is obvious that spinners need to do most of the wicket-taking, but all overseas teams have struggled with this aspect. In the third innings, overseas spinners have averaged 36.83 runs per wicket, which is similar to their first innings average, when pitches are usually far more batting friendly. Nathan Lyon has averaged 38.87 in the third innings, Adil Rashid 38.28, and Moeen Ali 40. Only the two South African spinners, Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer, have sub-25 averages, though both were involved in an unusually low-scoring series in India last year.

On the other hand, the Asian spinners have been outstanding in the second innings and in the fourth, with averages of less than 21.

Those numbers indicate how outmatched the overseas teams have been in Asia over the last year, especially in the spin-bowling department. Over the next few months, they will be playing 11 more Tests in India alone, with New Zealand playing two, England five and Australia four. England were exceptional when they toured in 2012-13, winning the series 2-1, but this time they will be without Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, the two spinners who formed the backbone of that series victory. All three overseas teams will be up against it in India, but they could perhaps start by winning a few tosses. After 13 successive wrong calls, they are due a few correct ones.