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X-SQUARE: HOME COMFORTS

January 14, 2018

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The 0-4 score line that England managed by the end of the Ashes was not much of a surprise for even the Barmy Army. The only people who may have been thoroughly disappointed were those who had put a wager on a 0-5 whitewash. They would have felt cheated actually. But for the world at large — the cricketing world, that is — the end result is a reminder yet again that teams have begun to fare much worse away from home than had been the case earlier. The paper strength ahead of a contest actually means next to nothing. The feeling was a bit more concretised by the manner in which the first Test between India and South Africa played itself out.

But first let us get the Ashes out of the way. And for that we have to take a quick look at history. Don’t worry. We are not going to go too far back in time. The modern era of Ashes clearly starts in 2005 when England defied everything and surprised themselves by winning the contest after God knows how many years and that too in the presence of stalwarts such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Rickey Ponting and the rest.

Just a year later, almost the same England side went Down Under and suffered a 0-5 whitewash. On the return tour, it regained the Ashes 2-1 at home. The seesaw pattern continued till the latest and the just-concluded edition; the only exception being the 2010-11 series that England won 3-1 in Australia.

International sides are finding it increasingly difficult to hit the jackpot when on a tour. The atmosphere away from home has apparently never been more alien

Starting with the 2005 Ashes, the two sides have played 40 Tests; 20 in each country. At home England won 10 (50 percent) of them while losing 04 (20pc). Away from home, it won just 3 (15pc) and lost 15 (75pc). The numbers tell their own story, but a bit of perspective is essential. Their flip side reflects on the performance of Australia as well. If England could win just three Tests in Australia in the last dozen years, the latter could win no more than just four when they were not playing at home in equal number of attempts over the same period of time. The problem is not specific to any particular team.

Let us now turn to India, the team that has been on a purple patch for the last 18 months — July 2016 till the end of 2017 — winning 16 (70pc) of them; the highest number and win percentage recorded by any side.

Just to put this in context, England played the same number of Tests over the period and won 8 (38pc); Australia, 10 out of 20 (50pc); Sri Lanka, 9/19 (47pc); South Africa, 11/18 (61pc); West Indies, 4/17(23pc); New Zealand, 8/16 (50pc); Bangladesh, 3/11(27pc); and Zimbabwe, 0/8.

What about Pakistan, you might wonder. Here it is: we won six of the 17 Tests we played for a win percentage of 35 which is ahead of just West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Besides, we lost the rest of the 11 Tests and our loss percentage of 64.70 is surpassed by just Zimbabwe (7/8; 87pc) and Bangladesh (8/11; 73pc). Even West Indies was better off with one less loss (10/17; 59pc).

The awesomeness of India and its rising stars had much to do with their consistent stay at home under a plan the type of which has earned a controversial tag for the ICC Future Tours Programme (FTP) and, consequently, to the official ranking system.

Talking of loss percentage, India, in its 23 Tests, lost just one (4pc). This was amazing stuff. Seen together, India won 70pc of its matches while losing just 4pc. If this is not a purple patch, nothing really is. But let’s now return to the key component. Did India do well away from home in its remarkable journey? Yes, it did, winning five of seven such Tests; 72pc which was even higher than what it registered at home (11/16; 65pc). Now this is as good as it gets, or is it?

Numbers do tell a good and often effective story, but, like almost everything else, they do have their limitations. The Indian numbers abroad are misleading in the sense that the opposition they faced were less worthy than what they faced at home. The 3-0 victory in Sri Lanka came against a side on a lean trot for a while and in conditions that are all but similar to ‘home’ setting. And the other 2-0 margin hardly needs any discussion other than the fact that it came against the West Indies.

The awesomeness of India and its rising stars had much to do with their consistent stay at home under a plan the type of which has earned a controversial tag for the ICC Future Tours Programme (FTP) and, consequently, to the official ranking system.

The evidence came as soon as India stepped out of its comfort zone to face a decent opposition in alien conditions. The first Test against South Africa was enough to expose the unit inside out. A total of 231 overs were bowled out of the maximum 450. They were worth 2.5 days or eight sessions and were enough to make India go down by 72 runs. With Dale Steyn out with an injury, India may well find a way to restore some pride for, after all, it is a decent side, but it will take some doing to maintain the aura of invincibility it could generate by playing consistently at home. The atmosphere away from home has apparently never been more alien for international sides and India does not look like an exception.

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 14th, 2018

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