Home Advantage in Test Cricket

Home advantage exists across many sports, and Cricket is no exception. Each sport has its own factors driving home advantage (1).

It’s a fascinating theme, and I plan to explore it via a series of posts, building a picture of Home advantage in Test Cricket.

In this first piece we’ll start with the magnitude of home advantage, and look at how teams fare at the start of a series in this era of condensed tours with limited match practice.

Measuring Home Advantage

So how big is home advantage? Eight of the last ten Ashes series have been won by the hosts. Casting the net a bit wider, including all Tests since 2000, we can be a bit more precise and measure home advantage a number of ways:

Figure 1: Five measures of Home Advantage. All figures presented from the home team’s perspective. Tests since 1st Jan 2000, excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan & Ireland

The key metric is the 14% difference in runs per wicket between home and away teams. All other effects are a consequence of that. Take a player with a theoretical average of 35 – at home he’ll average 37.4; away that drops to 32.6. Over the course of an average match the 17% difference translates to a 63 run total edge to the home team, which in turn means roughly twice as many home wins as away wins in matches & series.

The example of Rory Burns illustrates the effect of Away games: his county stats are excellent, but he has played six Tests, all away, and averages 25. It will take a while for his average to tick up from there, assuming he gets the opportunity. How much easier life could be if he’d started with a home series! I’ll wager that there are players whose careers stalled because they debuted away from home, and were lumbered with averages that would mark them as not-quite-good-enough. At present that’s just conjecture, it’s on the list for me to return to at a later date.

Home advantage gets bigger as a series goes on

My intention was to look at series of 3+ Tests and show that tourists were coming unstuck in the first Test (fail to prepare, prepare to fail) and then acclimatising and improving. Easy piece of analysis, right? What follows are multiple attempts to show it, and finding the opposite effect: Home advantage gets bigger as a series goes on

Here’s the Test-by-Test view:

Figure 2: 1st Jan 2000 – 9th Feb 2019, Home advantage in series of at least three Tests. Percentage advantage refers to the differential in Runs per Wicket. Excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan & Ireland. Note the large sample sizes.

Home advantage grows though a series. The increase is insignificant from first to second Test, before jumping for later Tests of the same series. This is marked by a significant decline in away runs per wicket in later Tests in a series. Scoring 2.2 runs fewer per wicket in the later Tests is roughly the equivalent of replacing Tim Southee with a breadstick (in terms of batting contribution).

What does that mean for results? Well, if you are planning to follow your team abroad, you’d be wise to go to the early Tests in the series:

Figure 3: Home Wins increase noticeably for the third (and subsequent) Tests in a series. 1st Jan 2000 – 9th Feb 2019. Excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan & Ireland

Worth noting that the extra home wins later in the series come from both fewer draws and fewer away wins.

Now let’s consider first Test home advantage compares to the rest of that series (by country):

Figure 4: Relative home advantage in the first Test of a 3+ Test series as compared to the rest of that series. UAE not treated as a home ground for Pakistan. Victories by wickets are translated to runs based on the average fourth innings score. Draws are recorded as nil. 1st Jan 2000 – 9th Feb 2019. Excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan & Ireland

Generally, home advantage is actually weaker in the first Test than later matches. But note the ‘Gabba effect in Australia – this traditional series opener is especially suited to players with experience in Australian conditions. That’s the exception – in most cases, home teams have more success later in the series.

Still not convinced? One more chart, and if you’re still not convinced you can give me both barrels on twitter (@edmundbayliss) and tell me I’m wrong!

Figure 5: Home advantage by match of series. 1st Jan 2000 – 9th Feb 2019. Excluding Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan & Ireland

There’s a predictable trend in Figure 5: home advantage has grown over time.

Discussion

Let’s recap – home advantage is worth 12% in the first two Tests of a series, and 18% in the later Tests.

Why should this be? Three hunches:

  • Away teams find themselves behind in the series; selectors panic. Perhaps a 21-year-old batsman get picked, or an unbalanced side is selected in the hope of turning the tide. Keaton Jennings being recalled to replace Foakes (a better batsman) in the recent West Indies tour is a neat example of muddled thinking http://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/25953448/jennings-foakes-england-chaos-two-tests-ashes
  • Modern players don’t spend much time in home conditions, but built their technique there. Playing a lengthy series allows home players to reintroduce tried and tested ways of playing. Away teams don’t have that luxury, and can’t expect to make technical changes mid-series.
  • Fatigue: a small squad gets run into the ground by back to back matches.

So, there we have it – home advantage is significant and grows as a series goes on. More analysis is needed to establish why this is the case.

Further Reading

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2008/feb/03/features.sportmonthly16 – an excellent summary by Professor David Runciman of home advantage across sports.
  2. For a thought provoking piece of analysis on modern Cricket see Tim Wigmore’s article on Cricinfo http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/912717.html
  3. A summary of recent England tours: comparing the warm up conditions with performance in their first innings https://www.kingcricket.co.uk/lets-take-a-quick-look-at-the-opening-innings-of-some-recent-england-test-tours-and-also-the-warm-up-matches-that-preceded-them/2019/01/29/

Post-Script

Dan Weston (@SAAdvantage) suggested that matches after the series had already been decided could be a factor that hadn’t been taken into account:

To exclude just the “Dead Rubber” games would distort the home advantage effect, because to do so would include only the early matches in those series (probably won convincingly by the home team). The right response is to ignore all matches in a series where that series ends in a “Dead Rubber”.

Figure 7: Home advantage measured in runs, both including and excluding series that are decided before the last match of the series. Note that excluding the one sided series reduces the sample size to roughly 300 Tests- so there’s a bit more volatility between first and second Tests in the series. This is likely to be by chance, rather than a genuine effect.

Excluding one-sided series shows lower home advantage (because it excludes big home wins when a visiting team can’t compete with a superior host team). The overall effect is the same though- home advantage gets markedly bigger in the later Tests.

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