Cricket, ‘Home Conditions’ & the Never-Ending Debate
Cricket’s ‘home conditions’ debate and where to draw the line.
During and immediately after the second Test in Chennai, there were plenty of opinions voiced by former cricketers-turned-cricket experts, media personalities and fans – all from a certain part of the world – criticising the conditions doled out by the BCCI for the first two Test matches between India and England.
I am going to summarily dismiss all those opinions, for I see them as knee-jerk reactions to how badly England fared in the second Test, or opinions made by inane fans, or by those individuals seeking some time under the spotlight, or by those wanting to create a non-material controversy.
The conditions in Chennai for the two Test matches were spin friendly – yes, but not unplayable. England, led by captain Joe Root, adapted to the “red soil conditions” better in the first Test and took an early lead in the series. India adapted to the conditions better in the second Test and prevailed, drawing level in the series.
But England being dismissed for 134 & 164 in their two innings, and losing by a massive 317 runs didn’t obviously go down well with English cricket fans and pundits. Especially, given it broke their 6-match overseas winning streak and 6-match winning streak in Asia. Hence the sour grapes, whinging, etc.
Would Test cricket be interesting if all contests were played on a highway-like-surface? Would sport be enjoyable if all contests were played in similar settings? Absolutely not.
If you were a movie buff: Imagine one script being made as multiple movies – with every movie an exact copy of the other movies made from the same script –- except for the cast. Won’t appeal to you, right?
As an ardent fan and long-time supporter of Test cricket, I know conditions contribute to the romance of Test cricket. Green pitch, dry pitch, moist pitch, hard and pacy surface, disintegrating pitch, bald outfield, lush outfield, wet outfield, sunny day, cold day, cloudy and overcast skies, spell of sunshine, windy day... conditions come in so many variables and combinations
“Variety is the very spice of life,” wrote William Cowper wrote in his poem as far back as 1785.
Test cricket, as the initial term suggests, is meant to be a test of:
- Ability to outclass and outlast various types of opponents
- Ability to play long passages of play
- Ability to ride out difficult conditions and situations
- Ability to succeed after initial failures, etc.
Let me make a mention about tennis just briefly; the Australian and US Open are played on hard courts, the French Open is played on clay, and the Wimbledon is played on grass courts. Each of those four grand slam events demands for a specific skill and temperament, and hence each event presents players with a certain challenge.
So too with cricket, fans want to see a contest between bat and ball. Fans want to see players tested – by the opponents and by the conditions, and overcome those.
And therefore, it isn’t wrong on the part of cricket teams to ask for and prepare conditions which suit their strengths. After all, players have grown up playing in such conditions – why now change to something that makes them feel out of place – especially when playing at the highest level and when the stakes are so high.
They will eventually be tested and come up against alien conditions when they travel overseas – why then should they be made to feel uncomfortable when playing at home?
Home Conditions Comprise More Than 22 Yards
When players and team management in cricket mention home conditions, it is often misinterpreted as reference to the pitch alone. Reference to home conditions includes the pitch itself, familiarity of the venue (onset of sea breeze, knowledge of changing wind patterns, the angles in the field, etc), the cuisine and food being served at the venue, and the local dressing room staff.
Why, even the cricket ball – one of the four basic implements of the game – is a part of home advantage too; India use the SG Test ball when they play at home, England use the Dukes ball to their advantage when they play at home, and the Australians use the Kookaburra when they play in their backyard.
Home advantage isn’t a new phenomenon; it has existed for years and should remain an integral fabric of the game of cricket forever.
Cricket in the subcontinent means having to contend with dust bowls and lots of overs from quality spinners, cricket in England and New Zealand could mean green surfaces, moist surfaces, lots of swing and seam – with the possibility of overcast skies, and cricket in Australia and South Africa is generally about surfaces affording bowlers pace and bounce.
Back in the days – starting the mid-1970s, through the 1980s and until about the end of 1995 – when the West Indies were a force to reckon with – the surfaces in the Caribbean were said to be hard, pacy and bouncy.
In that period, the pitches in the Caribbean were so lopsidedly in favour of pace bowlers that over 70 percent of the overs were bowled by the quick bowlers – several of those by hostile and menacing pacers; yet few complained.
Teams have always used home conditions to their advantage and protected their backyards – and so it should be. Players want to perform and win in front of their fans, and fans want to see their idols and teams succeed in front of them.
And if visiting players fare well and if visiting teams battle hard and win, their efforts and success will be applauded too.
Here’s wrapping this piece with a table illustrating how teams who dominated the Test cricket scene in the last few decades were pretty much unbeatable at home.
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