Book II: Act III, Scene III

Not six months since beating Australia 4-0 in England, England are on the verge of going down 3-0 in Australia, to Australia, and in the process lose retention of the Ashes, a trophy they have held since 2009.

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Two Australian summers ago, Australia whitewashed guests India 4-0, only to lose 4-0 to the same opponent on foreign soil a year later.

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The above are just two examples of support for an opinion I see daily now: Cricket teams cannot win Tests away from home anymore.

The one major outlier is of course South Africa. They have – just since 2012 – won series in England, in the UAE, in Australia and in New Zealand.

But the question remains: are teams losing more on the road now than in years past? I am not sure. So I did what any dedicated cricket follower would do: I pulled up Statsguru and looked into it.

(Now, of course, if teams are losing more now than in years past, then a more interesting discussion would be on the WHY – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

(Note: there is one major flaw in this data. Statsguru counts Pakistan’s home matches in the UAE as taking place in a neutral venue, so those matches therefore do not have a “home” or “away” team, and are not considered in the data. I did not notice this until it was too late and I am loathe to go back and fix it. If this was my job and I was getting paid, I would do so, but it isn’t and I don’t…so I am not going to do that.)

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To compare era to era, I am going to use Cricinfo’s W/L ratio – which is simply the number of wins divided by the number of losses. It discounts the draws, unfortunately, but I think it is fair stat to use in this case.

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Looking first at the last 12 months: there have been 38 Test matches, and the traveling team has won exactly two of them, while the home team has won 26, for a W/L of a dismal .08.

But the last year is too small a sample size. I mean, shoot, India hasn’t even played a single Test – home or away – in the last 12 months. But the last year has seen most teams experience abysmal away form, which is probably why everyone thinks no one can win on the road anymore…but is this part of a long term trend? Or are people reading too much into the last year?

The last five years: Out of 139 Test matches, the traveling team has won 35 and lost 68 for a W/L ratio of .51. Better, but still not great.

In the five years before that (2003-2008) the W/L ratio for the traveling team was .32.

And so in that case, one could surmise that teams are actually getting better on the road, not worse.

Diving deeper:

The last 10 years: .47
The ten years before that: .44

Again, the last 10 years show an improvement of Test teams’ away form, not the opposite, despite all the punditry.

The last 20 years: .45
The 20 years before that: .43

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Just by simply looking at the above numbers, there is simply no way that one could argue that teams struggle more on the road now than they have in the recent past.

Skewing the data a bit, of course, is the dominance of teams like the West Indies (W/L ratio of 2.0 from 1974 to 2003 – which means they won twice as many Tests as they lost during that time period) and Australia, who consistently won on the road from the 70s through the late 00s.

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Looking by decade, and going further back, however, the data begins to get interesting:

2000s: .44
1990s: .48
1980s: .64
1970s: .65
1960s: .70
1950s: .74

That is a very real – and very downward – trend.

And so the conclusion here is: teams are losing on the road more than they were in the 50s through the 80s, but not any more so than they have in the recent past (2000 and onward.)

So this is a new-ish phenomenon, but not a brand new one – it is a longterm trend, and not the fault of, say, the IPL.

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But what (or who) is at fault? Of that I am not so sure…there are probably many answers to that question and they would all be correct in their own way.

My quick-hit opinion, though? Well, I used the word “trend” twice above, and so that is what I think this is. A trend. Nothing more. Due to certain reasons, teams are struggling on the road.  Boards and and coaches and players are aware of this, and will make efforts to correct it, and when they do, their teams will start winning on the road again.

That’s my two cents.

Now let’s just hope England can reverse the trend with a miracle today in Perth.

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Data dump for those interested:

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One Response to Book II: Act III, Scene III

  1. Interesting stuff, Matt. I suspect that the substantial reduction in drawn games and the faster tempo of play (certainly when compared to the 1950s and 1960s) has contributed to the downward trend over the last fifty years. Very few Tests are drawn these days when weather isn’t a factor, and teams simply don’t fight as hard as they used to draw games. Far fewer players can really bat time the way many players used to (an obvious exception is Shiv Chanderpaul, but he can’t do it all on his own).

    You might just want to amend the first line – the result of the Ashes series in England was 3-0 to England, not 4-0.

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