The Significance of Home Ground Advantage
Phrases such as “Flat Track Bullies” and “Lions At Home but Sheep’s Away” are thrown around mercilessly in world cricket today. Captains are being criticised for requesting certain pitches to suit their side when playing at home, whilst travelling fans are getting fed up of seeing their team lose the away fixtures. You can argue that home ground advantage plays a much bigger role in cricket then it does in any other sport – however, at what stage does that role get more significant than it should be?
Would you say the home advantage is too significant if a captain requests the groundsmen to prepare a track that spins from the1st day of a Test match, since the touring team is weak against spin bowling? Or do you know that home advantage has become too significant when half way through a series, the stump microphone picks up a player from the touring team sledging a player from the home side by saying ; “Just wait and see what happens when you tour our country!”
In cricket I see three key factors which count towards a team having ‘home advantage’ – the pitch conditions, the climate conditions and the home crowd. In this piece I will look in depth at the pitch conditions before briefly looking at the other two factors.
The Pitch Condition
The surface on which you play a cricket match can have a massive impact on the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, the surfaces vary greatly around the globe for a number of reasons, which means that the outcome of matches could be very different simply depending on where you play. Now for somebody who does not know much about the sport this would sound absolutely insane.
The result of this is you develop players who would perform admirably whilst playing at home, but on tour they look like school kids trying to learn how to hold a bat. Therefore, due to captains and boards requesting pitches to be tailor made for their players, we have seen a number of very one dimensional cricketers starting to pop up in teams all around the globe. Now the question is - to what extent should preparing pitches to the home team's request be allowed?
Fact is, due to players facing such friendly conditions at home, the world of cricket is being deprived from ‘great players’. In my book, to be a great player you should be able to perform well regardless of where you are playing or who the opposition is. In the last decade I can only recall a handful of players who have come on the scene that even partially fit that definition.
However, having said that – in an ideal scenario you are going to play half your games at home. If you have players who can win you half your games, surely they are worth investing in and keeping in the side. In that sense, is it really so bad to be a ‘flat track bully’ or a ‘lion at home’? Most sides and most skippers want to look at one game at a time, and more importantly look to win one game at a time. If players start underperforming for a couple of games – at home or away – they know there is an axe hanging over their head.
In recent times I feel the home team has had way too much of an advantage when it comes to pitch conditions, which has caused a decrease in the level of talent on show. But who is to blame?
Is it fair to blame the captains and management of the home team, for requesting pitches to favour their side so they can record a couple of quick wins?
Or is it the selectors to blame who are constantly axing players and changing teams after a couple of poor performances from players?
Can you blame the ICC for planning the tours in such a way that teams will play at home for a number of months (where they have a lot of wins), then play away from home for a number of months (where they register a lot of defeats due to the unfamiliar conditions)?
Or are the fans to blame? The fans who are unwilling to put up with any poor performances from their side and are calling for heads to roll as soon as the side starts performing poorly away from home.
Climate Conditions & Home Crowd
These two factors are something which affects athletes from every sport and are not exclusive to cricket. These are also factors which cannot really be changed; however, do seem to have an impact on the result of matches. In my opinion, any factors which affect the outcome of matches, other than the talent and skills of the players should be minimised or somehow hammered out of the system.
However, how can you change the climate? Short answer – you can’t.
Having said that, the planning of competitions can be done in a smarter fashion. This is easier said than done – especially with the increasing amount of cricket being played every year, however it doesn't take a genius to see how it may be unfair to expect a subcontinent side to play in England at the end of April!
The climate conditions will always suit the home side, however that does not mean some smart planning should not go into trying to minimise the effect this has on the outcome of the games. The English domestic summer is now commencing ridiculously early in an attempt to fit in all the competitions with all the sides. As a result the international English summer is also being started a lot sooner than it should be – making it much harder for touring teams. In my opinion the ICC and cricket boards around the world should work together and look to possibly decrease the quantity of the cricket being played in an attempt to improve the quality of cricket and cricketers on show.
The final factor is the home crowd. Now to be honest, this is one factor I do not have such a problem with. If you are playing at home, you expect the crowd to be backing you and pushing you on. However, if teams start performing better in the away fixtures, maybe fans will be more willing to invest time and finances in travelling with the team, and even the lack of support on away tours will not prove to be such a deciding factor.