India, one of the toughest venues in Test cricket today

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Over the past decade, Indian bowlers have upped their game abroad and become even more proficient in their own backyard. It is surely time to dispel the “Tigers at home, lambs abroad” myth.

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Unsurprisingly, India has completed a 3-0 whitewash in the Test series against South Africa, with a haul of 120 Test Championship points tripling the already sizeable lead it had entered the series with. Though this result is largely along expected lines, what with the recent retirements of several South African stalwarts, the manner in which it was achieved was particularly impressive from India’s standpoint — especially the way the Indian pacers out-bowled their South African counterparts was heartening. The contrast from four years ago could not be starker; back then, the Saffers had complained about “designer pitches” that unashamedly suited the Indian bowling attack. Cut to the Pune Test, which India wrapped up with an innings and 137 runs, we saw South African batsman Temba Bavuma conceding that this was a ground with “South African type of conditions”.

No less gratifying for India is that this is their 11th consecutive series win at home, a streak longer than any other team in cricketing history; not even the mighty Aussies or the West Indians in their heyday managed to win an 11th straight Test series at home (although, it must be added that Australia won 10 consecutive series twice). So, why isn’t India’s streak at home celebrated as a hallmark of cricketing excellence? Why isn’t there much myth-making around India’s obviously incredible record at home? Yes, Steve Waugh did label it the “Final frontier”, but it has rarely featured since in the cricketing folklore. Let us put India’s streak in perspective.

In the 2010s alone, India has lost only 4 Test matches at home out of the 47 played, giving a scarcely believable W/L ratio of 8.5. And yet, I suspect many Indian fans will pooh-pooh this with the oft-repeated “Tigers at home, lambs abroad” punchline. While there was some truth to this two decades ago (looking at you, afficionados from the ‘90s), its home record since the turn of the millennium has been nothing to scoff at. Since 1970, four sides have had exceptional home records (Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, India), with little to choose between them over nearly a 50-year period; each one of these teams won between 2.75 and 3 Tests for every Test they lost. While there might be allegations of biased umpiring and designer pitches, it can’t be denied that this is an exceptionally consistent record at home over nearly five decades.

Slice this even finer, and three sides stand out. Lo and behold, the present Indian side is in great company (it must be noted that the overall Win% was much lower when the West Indies were trampling every side around the world).

 

Era dominator

Won

Lost

W/L

Win %

West Indies (1978-1994)

 31

5

6.2

58.5

Australia (1995-2007)

58

7

8.3

75.3

India (2007-2019)

41

5

8.2

66.1

 

Even if you were to examine teams under long-serving captains at home, three Indian captains — Mohammad Azharruddin, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli are close to the very top, once again showing that India have been formidable at home over multiple decades. Whichever way you look at it, these are insane numbers. Quite often, eyebrows are raised and aspersions cast on India’s spinners abroad, but there isn’t commensurate acknowledgement about Indian spinners’ prowess at home. If India is so friendly for spinners, why haven’t opposition spinners been able to take advantage (like Saqlain Mushtaq did)?

 

Spinners’ bowling averages between 2012 and 2015

Host country

Home spinner

Away spinner

Away-home ratio

India

21.67

32.22

1.49

Sri Lanka

27.51

33.09

1.20

Bangladesh

41.02

43.12

1.05

England

33.88

40.34

1.19

Australia

36.19

66.46

1.84

West Indies

30.79

35.77

1.16

South Africa

38.05

45.3

1.19

Zimbabwe

36.33

26.84

0.74

New Zealand

46.21

61.38

1.33

Pakistan/UAE

27.12

45.33

1.67


Spinners’ bowling averages since 2016

Host country

Home spinner

Away spinner

Away-home ratio

India

25.32

51.18

2.02

Sri Lanka

28.38

31.42

1.11

Bangladesh

24.27

27.86

1.15

England

32.49

38.07

1.17

Australia

36.68

64.04

1.75

West Indies

41.51

29.88

0.72

South Africa

34.11

52.08

1.53

Zimbabwe

48.17

23.74

0.49

New Zealand

48

42.95

0.89

Pakistan/UAE

26.24

32.76

1.25

 

Sure, when you look at the bowling averages of spinners in various countries during this decade, subcontinental home spinners have had the merriest time. However, it can also be clearly seen that in countries such as India, South Africa, and Australia, the home spinners dominate the away spinners by a large margin (as seen in the ratio of bowling averages of away spinners to that of the home spinners). While the latter two can be labelled as pacer-friendly countries, shouldn’t opposition spinners still be able to perform well in Indian conditions? Additionally, India is not as spin-friendly as it was between 2012 and 2015 — meaning, results over the last four years should be viewed from this perspective.

In fact, Indian spinners have performed rather well abroad post-2015; coincidentally, it is also the time when the Indian pacers turned on the heat on the opposition batsmen in foreign conditions, which points to the importance of pace-bowling support for spinners if they are to perform to their fullest potential. In a similar vein, it is certainly worth wondering why many non-subcontinental pacers are not as effective as some of the legendary fast bowlers such as Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee, Dale Steyn, Glenn McGrath, Alan Donald and others, who performed in Asia as well. Far too often, the Indian media is guilty of overemphasising their team’s frailties abroad as compared to the overseas media.

So, we should give credit where it is due. Over the last 20 years, it has taken superhuman efforts from South Africa, Australia (with the last day of the Chennai Test rained out), and England to win a red-ball series in India. It is time that a Test series victory in India is valourised and anointed as one of the toughest assignments in cricket.

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