Would the Test Championship benefit from extra points for away wins?
Recently we featured a piece about the Test Championship and the benefits associated with it. Most notably, these benefits relate to the added incentive teams now have to win cricket games rather than draw them as a result of the points system, which awards three times as many points for a win than a draw. That, combined with the continual development of T20 cricket and the inevitable impact that has on how Test cricket is played – both by bowlers and batters – will almost certainly make for more aggressive cricket, and in turn more interest from fans.
Presumably, with each passing Test Championship alterations will be made to further enhance it, and Indian captain Virat Kohli got tongues wagging this week with a suggestion on what one of these changes could be.
“If you’d have asked me to make the points table,” Kohli said. “I would give double the points for an away Test win. That is something I would have definitely liked to see. Maybe after the first edition.”
It’s an interesting idea. For a long time, the significance of the home ground advantage in Test cricket has been a major problem with the game in the eyes of many. This year aside, India has been a prime example of that issue, meaning Kohli’s comments certainly aren’t said with the sole intention of benefiting his own team.
This year was an exception, with India earning themselves a rare 2-1 win in a four-Test series in Australia – in fact, the team’s first ever Test series victory in the country. Prior to that, the Border-Gavaskar trophy had been virtually exclusively won by whichever team was playing on home soil. The previous seven incarnations of the series had seen the home team win, and often comfortably – in three editions between 2010 and 2013, the home side won ten out of the ten matches between the two teams. The last time an away side won the series was back in 2004 when Australia won 2-1 in India on the back of names such as Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
And that’s far from the only example. South Africa and India are engaged in their eleventh Test series against one another since the turn of the century – three of those have resulted in draws, the other seven have been won by the home team. The one occasion on which the away side was victorious? The beginning of 2000.
The Ashes is the tournament with the most history in world cricket and is one of the most anticipated when it comes around every couple of years. And while it’s true there have been some fantastic series’ – who can forget the glove of Michael Kasprowicz giving England a two run win back in 2005 at Edgbaston, or Ben Stokes’ extraordinary innings earlier this year? – but by and large, the most important factor in the outcome of the series has simply been where it’s been played. This year the teams played out a drawn series and in 2010/2011 England earned a victory in Australia, but of the last ten Ashes series the home side has won on eight occasions. So stark is the home ground advantage that in 2013/14, England won the series 3-0 at home only to be swept 5-0 in Australia six months later by virtually the exact same team.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule but for the most part they occur when one team is significantly better than the other. Australia last beat England in England in 2001, when they were potentially the best team of all time and England, to put it politely, were not.
There’s nothing wrong with a home ground advantage – in fact it’s a relatively ubiquitous concept in sports across the globe. Typically, however, the reasons for it can be put down to factors such as crowd influence, travel, and the familiarity teams have with their own arenas. Cricket is one sport where the game itself can actually differ quite drastically from country to country, and with groundskeepers able to manufacture conditions to suit their own teams that difference is only amplified.
Teams should have an advantage when they play at home, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near as significant. If two teams are relatively evenly matched, the away side should be in with a genuine chance of a series victory. Though it depends on which two teams are involved, at the moment that is very rarely the case. If India heads to the West Indies or Australia to Sri Lanka, the away side is still pretty likely to win the series, but that’s because they’re much better. When it comes to match-ups between the best teams in the world, the likes of Australia, India, South Africa, England and New Zealand, the difference in team quality is rarely enough to make up for the disadvantage of playing on foreign soil.
Kohli’s suggestion would give teams significantly more incentive to perform well away from home. Maybe incentive isn’t enough – maybe conditions in India are just so foreign to Australian players that they will never be able to adapt well enough to consistently compete. But maybe it would force them to place more emphasis on developing techniques that will hold up in a variety of different conditions. Maybe it would give them incentive to develop pitches, particularly at a domestic level, which aren’t so unique to that part of the world, to enable both bowlers and batsmen to become accustomed to them and ensure they aren’t so far out of their element when they do travel to places like the subcontinent.
Of course, there are certain problems with the suggestion, namely that it would require the draw to be refined in a way that ensures certain teams don’t have a major advantage. For example, if one team enjoyed away series against the likes of the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and another had to face India, Australia and England, it would be a relatively clear and significant disadvantage.
These are problems which can be solved, however, and the benefits have the potential to far outweigh the negatives. Perhaps double points as Kohli suggested is too significant, but some sort of added incentive for winning overseas would surely be a positive. For too long the most compelling reason to pick one side over another has been that they are playing on home soil – perhaps implementing something like this would go some way to moving it back towards which team has the better players.