Does home advantage keep all cricket teams tigers at home and lambs abroad?
There is a hardship in playing overseas and that is both the challenge and charm of cricket. The pitches, weather and conditions vary from country to country. Players have to learn to adapt, technically and temperamentally. The best teams in the history of the game like Clive Lloyd’s West Indies in the 1970 and 80s, or Australian team of the 1990s and 2000s, could win almost anywhere, which is why they are regarded as truly great.
I do not think that home advantage needs to be diluted. Why should countries not be allowed to play to their strengths? It is visiting teams that should come up with answers. For South Africa to play to India’s advantage makes no sense. And why should India prepare fast pitches for the Australians? If they are good enough, they will win on slow pitches as well. Cricket does not have a standardised playing surface, and thank god for that!
One major change in recent years is the lack of time for visiting teams to acclimatise. Except in the Ashes, there are very few warm up games before the first Test and in the middle of the series.
Here are other sharp perspectives on the question:
Certainly, in the last two decades, teams have made a conscious decision to tailor pitches to their advantage. It did happen in the past too, but now it has become more pronounced, because there is a lot more individual and national prestige involved. The rewards are also very high, so you do not want to lose, especially at home.
But to be called ‘great’, players and teams have to perform well home and overseas. Frankly, sometimes the hardship of playing away is touted as a cover-up for poor quality of players’ or team performance. If a team is good enough and motivated, it can succeed even in difficult conditions. England beat India on the 2012-13 tour because their spinners bowled better than our spinners, and their batsmen played spin better than our batters.
How domestic cricket is structured can make a big difference in this. For instance, India has six fast bowlers in the squad against South Africa, which has never happened before. We also had Rajneesh Gurbani excelling in the Ranji Trophy for new champions Vidarbha this year. Changes have been made in vision, coaching, pitches. Now it is to be seen what results they bear.
One aspect that needs to be always under scrutiny is that the home country cannot prepare dreadful pitches, which are absolutely unplayable, or those which are hazardous to safety. That would go against the grain of this great game.
Ayaz Memon is a sportswriter.