Why Home Advantage In Test Cricket Has Become Too Much

It was surprising yet inevitable. New Zealand needed just ten more runs to secure a 2-0 Test series sweep against Bangladesh and it would have been easy, with nine wickets in hand, just to knock it around carefully and go home triumphant.

However, Colin de Grandhomme, sent up the order, had other ideas. The all-rounder took two steps down the wicket and pummeled Nazmul Hossain over midwicket for six. The next ball, he did the exact same thing. It was almost last a carbon copy of the previous shot. If anything it was synonymous with the way New Zealand had outclassed Bangladesh in the Test and the series. The away side were never able to sustain momentum. Not in New Zealand’s conditions anyway.

That was the latest Test to be played this year. The match and the series result was predictable. New Zealand’s success meant that they have won six out of their last seven Test series at home, losing just twice in fifteen Tests during that period. Bangladesh’s away form paints a much bleaker picture. The Tigers have failed to win in their last three Test series, a run that stretches back to 2012, given their lack of opportunity recently.

Yet Bangladesh are not the only ones having the same problem. Every Test nation is now finding out that winning away from home in the longest format is becoming increasingly tougher. Home advantage has never been stronger and the stats show why.

From the 179 Tests that have been played since the start of 2013, the home side has won 104 times (58%), with the visitors proving successful on just 39 occasions (22%), including 36 draws (20%). Winning a series away from home has turned out to be just as difficult. During this period, home sides have won 37 (56%) of the 66 Test series played. Away teams have won just 16 of those series (24%), with 13 being drawn (20%).

The point is emphasised. The balance between teams in Test matches now tips towards the home team before a ball has even been bowled. And it seems that a side’s best chance of moving up the ICC rankings is through strong home form. No team has demonstrated this more over the past few years than India.

Spin duo Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have enjoyed a lot of success in India, but had little joy away from home [Photo Credit: Getty Images]
Virat Kohli’s side have played three of their last four Test series at home, winning 4-0, 3-0, 3-0 against England, New Zealand and South Africa respectively. In addition, they have a further two series coming up against Bangladesh and Australia. Using the conditions and the luxury of playing on dry, spinning pitches, India have steamrolled teams in their own back yard and teams have found it virtually impossible to beat them there.

As a result of this run at home, India top the ICC Test rankings on 120, with the next best ranking being their upcoming opponents, Australia, with 109. Yet when India play outside conditions familiar to their own, the going gets much tougher. They have lost their last series in England (3-1), Australia (2-0), South Africa (1-0) and in New Zealand (1-0). Their main strengths are neutralised away from home and it has had a major effect on results.

Australia have the same issue. The 3-0 drubbing in Sri Lanka, along with the 3-2 Ashes loss in England emphasised the Aussies’ struggles with dealing with the lateral moving ball. At home, Australia’s batsmen are able to use the hard, flat wickets to their advantage in hitting through the line of the ball and benefitting from their aggressive approach at the crease. Their bowlers use pace through the air to outdo the opposition’s batsmen, therefore virtually taking the unhelpful pitches out of the equation – a mistake plenty of away teams suffer from when visiting ‘down under’.

We are now in an age when the popularity of T20 cricket is increasing by the year. Big franchise tournaments like the IPL, Big Bash and now the PSL are attracting packed houses to almost every game due to not only the entertainment on show, but the thrilling, unpredictable drama that the shortest format brings. A single shot or delivery can change the course of a match. By contrast, the predictability of Test cricket as a result of the excessive home advantage means that the longer form is losing the unpredictability that drew in crowds from all over the world.

But what can the ICC do in order to prevent home advantage from making Test matches too predictable?

Visiting captains had the option to bowl in the County Championship this summer [Photo Credit: Getty Images]
A good start would be to follow County Cricket in England in scrapping the mandatory coin toss and allowing the away team the opportunity of bowling first. This may likely benefit teams playing bowler-friendly conditions in countries such as England, New Zealand and at times South Africa – what follows should be a fairer contest between both teams.

Another idea, one that has been talked about for some time now, is to introduce a Test Championship. Over a two-year period, a Championship would allow all teams to play each other home and away, in all conditions. Not only would this engage the public more due to the greater significance of the matches, but it would also prevent teams from playing at home for extended periods, as is the case with India currently.

A growing problem with the ICC rankings seems to be that a team’s ranking does not fully represent the true quality of that side. For example, India have been rewarded with top spot as a result of an extended period at home but have yet to play a Test series away since the West Indies tour in July/August. A Test Championship would eliminate this and in order to win the Championship, wins away from home would become paramount.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the nature of the wickets must be changed. Last year, the ICC Cricket Committee, headed by former India Test captain Anil Kumble, expressed their dissatisfaction over the quality of Test pitches “and in particular the common practice of home countries overtly preparing surfaces to suit their own teams”. It was made clear that there would be discussions held in the future over how to prevent home teams from preparing pitches that would significantly benefit their chances in Test matches.

A way of combatting this issue could be for the ICC to implement limitations on how much the home side can prepare the wicket to their benefit. Of course, a major advantage of playing at home is that a side can play to their strengths, and it should remain this way. However, the extent at which the home side can use this in their favour must be looked at.

We should not be seeing raging dustbowls that turn sharply from day one like the ones on show in Bangladesh during their series against England in October. The same for can be said for the greenest of seamers in England or New Zealand. A major priority in the game today is the future of Test cricket and fairer contests between home and away sides add to the exciting spectacle that Tests created.

At the moment, Test matches are too predictable. Home advantage has crossed the tipping point and changes will need to be made in order to balance the books once more. The future of Test cricket depends on it.