Is home advantage killing Test Cricket?

Is home advantage killing Test Cricket?

Traditionally cricket and tennis, because they are surface-centric games , have allowed for home advantage. In five-day cricket, and occasionally in ODIs, this is a huge factor. It is a known fact that sports teams fare much better at home than away for variety of reasons and cricket is no different. These include familiarity with local conditions and crowd support. The know-how about local conditions does give cricketers a powerful advantage. Pitches on different continents require different skills with bat and ball. Australians and South Africans play on fast, bouncy wickets. Teams from the Indian sub-continent rarely do well there, because they are used to slow wickets that suit spin bowlers. These, in turn, bamboozle the English, who are used to conditions in which the ball tends to swing in the air and seam off the pitch. The recent Ashes is the most perfect example of the home advantage. The Aussies were considered favorite even before they landed in England. It was because of their team combination and recent results in international cricket. However, things turned completely opposite for them and within no time England won this prestigious trophy once again. The home team adopted the policy of swing tracks which turned the tables in their favor as their opponents were of no match for them. It is the same team which was whitewashed by Australia in the previous edition of the Ashes. The only difference was the conditions and nature of tracks. Aussies, the home team, was more familiar to wickets and hence they toppled England in all departments of the game. It has been 15 years since Australia won the Ashes in England while England tasted success in Australia four years back. This shows that these two opponents are finding difficult to win outside their own boundaries. This is not the first case where a team has managed to outclass the opponents because of home advantage. Team India are the weakest travelers when it comes to big teams. They lost the last Test series quite comfortably against Australia. The players were unable to handle the lively tracks in Australia and were found wanting. Now cut back to the Test series which the Down Under team played in India. They were whitewashed by the home tigers in the four Test matches, leaving Australia in a state of misery. If we leave one or two results here and there in Test cricket, the home team has gone on to win the series. I know many fans and critics would point out finger in the direction of Sri Lanka who lost to Pakistan despite playing at home. However, let me clarify that this was a result of once in a life time as unpredictability is part and parcel of the game.

 

FAVORABLE TRACKS
It has been a trend that pitches are prepared to the strengths of the home team so it is not a surprise to see turning tracks in the subcontinent, the bouncing ones in Australia and the swinging strips in England. The nature of the pitches affects the combination of the side. The squad of the Asian countries is bombarded by the spinners while it is completely different in case of other teams. The tweakers have been the trend setters in the sub-continent while fast bowlers have caused the maximum damage on the pitches favorable to them. It is not only about the bowlers as visiting batsmen too have a job in their hands to accommodate according to the new conditions. One or two practice matches are not enough and by the time, it looks that batters are settling down, the series gets over.

 

INADEQUATE PLANNING
Let’s stick to Team India and analyze their planning of Test series. This nation played its last Test match at home in 2013 against West Indies and has been out since then. The results have been heartbreaking for them as they couldn’t get over the line against their rivals in the longest version of the game. It has led to massive decline in their rankings which doesn’t present a true picture. A lot is because of the inadequate planning of the series which has put India under the scanner. The same could be said about some other teams who are made to play outside their comfort zone for a longer duration of time and are restored back to home conditions after continuous humiliation. This is not the right way to move forward as tours should be planned perfectly where a gap between home games and away tours is balanced.

 

TEST CRICKET IS LOSING ITS SHEEN
It is not about Australia, India, England or other teams getting hammered because of the above mentioned factors. This is more about the future of Test cricket and inability of players to perform outside home conditions. In the last few years, the performance graph of the players have dipped alarmingly outside their comfort zone. There are experts who have put all blame on the shorter formats of the game, where it is easy to perform in comparison to Test cricket. There is nothing like session in the ODIs and T20 matches. In a recent article on Cricinfo, West Indies legend Tony Cozier wrote that both Geoffrey Boycott and Shane Warne blamed limited overs cricket—particularly—for poor technique among the batsmen and less patience in the bowlers. However, it is not true if we take complete picture into the account. Test matches lasting three days is not good for the cricket, but sadly, the boards aren’t going to tackle this problem in the way they ought to be. Players are home track bullies, but are unable to adapt to conditions outside and this is a concern that boards and eventually the ICC need to seriously consider and come out with a solution. A perfect example of this is the 2004 Test between India and Australia in Nagpur. The curator had prepared a bouncy wicket, which had something for both batsmen and bowlers. Australia, the touring team, defeated India easily in that Test. Rahul Dravid, who captained India at that time, praised the curator and even said that India needed more wickets like this if they wanted to perform well outside the country. Unfortunately, his words went unheard as things still remain the same, with the only difference being that everyone struggles outside home conditions today.





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