Debutants in Away Tests have shorter careers

Would you expect players to be disadvantaged by making their debut overseas? Surely the best players get picked and have a decent run in the side until there’s sufficient data to disprove the analysis that got them selected in the first place?

Afraid not. Away Debutants are discriminated against! Debut at home you can expect a nine Test career. If your first game is an away match, that drops to six.

Fig 1 – Average (Mean) and Median Tests played by location of Debut. Includes top nine Test teams, since 2005.

A reminder – home advantage in Test Cricket is big. Somewhere around 17%, depending on how you cut the data. If your expected batting average is 35, that’s 38 at home and 32 away. A player who starts their career overseas is likely to underperform, and is at greater risk of being dropped when the naïve assertion is made “OK, they have a decent First Class Average, but they are only averaging 29 in Tests.”

Half of Away Debutants don’t make it to seven Tests. And yet the mean number of Tests played by Home Debutants is only 1.1 matches more than Away Debutants. For some reason the early benefit to Home Debutants doesn’t persist. What happens after seven Tests to explain that?

Fig 2 – Frequencies of Number of Tests played. Includes top nine Test teams, since 2005.

The behaviour flips – from Tests 7-20 more Home Debutants are discarded than Away Debutants. I expect that this is because some players who had an easy home series to get into Test Cricket then get caught out when away from home.

After 20 Tests, a player has generally played a similar numbers of home and away Tests, so there’s no great difference between the two curves.

So What?

  1. Some Away Debutants play fewer Tests than they deserve. Conversely, some Home Debutants are kept in the team longer than they should be as a result of the stats boost they get from playing more home Tests than away.
  2. It’s time to move on from raw averages. Adjusted averages are the future. Not just adjusted for home/away, but also the ground they are playing on (think Headingley vs The Oval), the quality of opposition and the innings number. This is not a complicated task, and I’d be very surprised if it isn’t already happening behind closed doors. Admittedly I haven’t yet done this when rating Test players. But then, this is a hobby for me. Also, until a player has played 20 matches, I use their First Class average to appraise them. Which is coincidentally the point at which Debut Location ceases to matter as an input.
  3. Don’t make your Test Debut in an away game if you can help it. I appreciate this is not practical advice, so instead, if anyone reading this has made their Debut in an away game, make sure you quote your home/away adjusted average whenever possible! Ebadot Hossain, am looking at you.

It’s almost the same story for ODIs

A quick calculation says Home Advantage in ODIs is c.11%, so we would expect ODI debutants to have similar trends to Tests. Which is true for matches 0-20: Away Debutants are more readily discarded after a handful of games, then Home Debutants are in the firing line from 4-20 matches.

Fig 3 – Frequencies of Number of ODIs played. Includes top nine ODI teams, since 2005.

After 20 matches it gets more interesting. Overall, Away Debutants have greater longevity on both a mean and median basis. Of the Post-2005 players with more than 100 ODI Caps, 16 began at Home, 22 began Away.

Fig 4 – Average (Mean) and Median ODIs played by location of Debut. Includes top nine teams, since 2005.

What the dickens? I can’t confidently explain this. Could have hidden it from you, but it’s interesting and therefore worth sharing, even if I don’t understand it. I’ll offer one possibility: ODI series are often tacked onto Test series, so in an away series the star Test players stay on for the ODIs, meaning that only highly regarded red ball players make the team. At home, the top Test players can more easily be rested, so lesser known players might get a go.

The Short List: Away Test Debutants

Below is the list of players that played fewer than seven Tests, and started away from home. Have a read, see if you can pick out some players who might have had 20 Tests if given the benefit of a home debut. Luke Ronchi and Owais Shah jump out at me.

Fig 5 – Players to Debut away from home since 2005 and play fewer than seven Tests. Data implies 20 of these players would have played 20 Tests if they had debuted at home.

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