No winning on Tour

Tours are strange beasts. Anyone who has ever been on a Club Rugby tour can attest that pre-match preparation isn’t entirely conducive to peak performance.

Professional sport should be the opposite of this. Next time you are watching Cricket on TV and they cut to the pavilion balcony, count how many non-playing staff are on hand. I’m not criticising touring parties for being too large – I’ve no data to assess that on. My point is that lots of money is spent by governing bodies to ensure enough specialists are on hand to keep eleven cricketers playing at their best.

Here’s a theory – all this investment in the extra 1% is missing the wood for the trees. The tour scheduling is an unseen problem.

Recall the post-before-last regarding Home Advantage growing as a series goes on, and your correspondent having an effect with no obvious cause? Going through the archives of @Chrisps01’s blog was a possible clue to this – [link] – some analysis on rest periods between matches. A quick re-cut of the data and I could quantitatively look at this effect with two decades’ worth of data.

There’s a certain base advantage in the first Test of a series, which is kept at the same level if subsequent Tests are played back-to-back (ie with less than a seven day gap between matches). Away teams are at a much bigger disadvantage when there is a longer gap between Tests.

Think back to summer 2017 – on August 29th West Indies beat England by five wickets to square the series with just the Lord’s Test to come. On September 2nd & 3rd the full strength West Indies team toiled in a meaningless draw against Leicestershire. England rested. West Indies put up little resistance in the third Test, scoring just 300 runs over two innings.

Why might away teams struggle with longer gaps between Tests? Here’s how I rationalise it:

  1. With very short gaps between Tests, both teams are fully focused on recovery and getting the XI back ready to play the next Test. Both teams are therefore doing the same things and so no team gains an advantage over the other.
  2. Longer gaps between Tests mean tour matches for the away team, and (in the modern era) rest for the home team. Even if not all of the team are involved in a tour match, the focus of the touring party is likely to be distracted by a competitive fixture.
  3. Players for the host team may get the opportunity to go home for a few days during a break in the series – the away team will still be living in hotels.
  4. The data implies that the home team’s activities result in better performance in the next Test.

Touring teams should revisit their itinerary so they are best placed to compete throughout a series: plenty of rest, no meaningless mid-series tour matches.

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