Ravindra Jadeja appeals for Ish Sodhi's wicket

No place like home: in Tests in India, Ravindra Jadeja averages 20.6 and concedes only 2.23 runs per over


Stats analysis

Home and away: bowlers who travel well and those who don't

How much better do Jadeja and Rabada perform at home than they do abroad? Do fast bowlers fare better in Asia than spinners? Can anybody touch Syd Barnes?

Anantha Narayanan  |  

The way players perform in their home countries and away is a fascinating topic. A previous article by me in the Cricket Monthly covered Test batting from the point of view of home and away performances.

Over the 2365 Test matches, the mean home batting average is 4.3% better than the mean away batting average. This suggests that there isn't a significant difference between home and away batting performances.

Our instincts tell that bowlers perform much better at home than batsmen. And those instincts are correct. The mean home bowling average is 12.8% better than the mean away bowling average. Delving into the data further, the mean home bowling average for fast bowlers is 12% better than the mean away bowling average, and the difference for spinners is 14.5%.

If I set a notional cutoff of a minimum of 50 Test wickets at home and 50 away, 143 bowlers qualify. Of these, 101 have better home averages than away, and 42 have better away averages. It is clear that as far as bowling goes, home is where the heart is.

A look at a few current bowlers will give us an insight into how there are wide variations in home and away performances. Kagiso Rabada and Ravindra Jadeja are deadly bowlers at home and common trundlers on foreign soil. On the other hand, Nathan Lyon and Ben Stokes perform better on foreign pitches. However, the increase in away averages for the first pair of bowlers is much higher than the decrease in away averages for the latter pair (40% against 14%).

Even though this may look similar to the differences in batting averages, the dynamics here are different. For batsmen, we had a two-dimensional depiction of values: runs and batting average. For bowlers, however, there are multiple dimensions.

Number of wickets is the primary factor. Then the bowling average. The bowling average is itself derived from two components - strike rate and economy rate (accuracy). Strike rate v economy rate is the key mapping. In addition, readers need to know how many wickets were taken and at what average. So there's a lot more data, and all four data elements associated with a bowler should be visible at a glance.

I have limited my number of selections to between 20 and 30 bowlers for each graph. The selections are based on notional cutoffs, plus some special inclusions, based on low averages. The bowlers are split by type - pace and spin. Measures such as strike rates and economy rates have different meanings for different types of bowlers. Fast bowlers need to strike more frequently, while spinners have to be economical.

The figures are current up to the end of the India-South Africa Test series that finished in October.

© Anantha Narayanan

The cutoff for fast bowlers is 300 career wickets. Sydney Barnes, Brian Statham, Michael Holding and Joel Garner are honourable inclusions. Together the 28 bowlers selected average 372 wickets each at 25.01.

In these graphs, the upper half shows the economical bowlers, and the right half the more attacking bowlers. The top-right area contains those who are in the top half on both measures. These are the truly high-performing bowlers, with strike rates below 55 and economy rates below 2.9. Glenn McGrath, Imran Khan, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee et al form a wonderful collection of fast bowlers.

At bottom right we have the bowlers who strike more often than others. Waqar Younis, Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson lead a group of world-class strike bowlers. However, most of them are somewhat expensive, conceding over three runs per over. Even within this group, there is a compelling reason to separate the high performers like Waqar and Steyn into a separate sub-group.

At bottom left are the bowlers who have comparatively higher values for both strike rate and accuracy. Stuart Broad, Ian Botham and Zaheer Khan belong here (though it is only in the exalted company of the other bowlers in this graph that they lag behind).

At top left we have a collection of really tight bowlers. They are accurate but their strike rates are upwards of 55. Shaun Pollock, Courtney Walsh, Kapil Dev are among the bowlers in this quadrant. Most of them have strike rates similar to spinners.

A quick look at the graph indicates that bowlers with low economy rates belong to previous eras. Bowlers of the current era tend to be more expensive, although some of them have low strike rates. This is perhaps because the emphasis now is on taking wickets more quickly, albeit at the cost of economy. It is also likely that the attacking mindset of batsmen in recent times has been partly responsible for the change.

Alec Bedser (236 wickets at 24.90) and Ray Lindwall (228 at 23.03) are a couple of notable bowlers who miss out.

© Anantha Narayanan

The cutoff figure for spinners is 185 career wickets. The average for the 25 bowlers who qualify is 309 wickets each at 28.57.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Jim Laker, Shane Warne, Clarrie Grimmett and Jadeja occupy the rather sparsely populated top-right area. It is no longer possible to ignore Jadeja's numbers. He takes a wicket every 60 balls and concedes only 2.43 runs per over; granted these are home-dominated.

The lower-right portion is crowded. It includes a trio of great Indian spinners - Anil Kumble, R Ashwin and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. Kumble and Chandrasekhar were similar as bowlers, and share almost identical career numbers (average 29.7, strike rate 66.0, economy rate 2.70 for Kumble, against 29.8, 66.0 and 2.71 for Chandra). Ashwin has an excellent strike rate of 54 balls but a relatively high economy rate.

Moving to the bottom left, we have four bowlers - Danish Kaneria, Mushtaq Ahmed, Harbhajan Singh, Abdul Qadir - who were not very accurate and needed a fair number of balls to take a wicket. All four averages exceeding 30. Saqlain Mushtaq's position is rather unique - almost in the dead centre of the graph.

The top left is populated by accurate spinners of the 1950s-'70s: Lance Gibbs, Richie Benaud, Bishan Bedi et al. Gibbs has an economy rate of 1.99 but he needed 88 balls to take a wicket. In that era, many spinners concentrated on keeping the run rate down to around the 2.0 mark, hoping that the wickets would come - which essentially worked when they played at home. More on this later.

Tony Lock (174 at 25.58), Hugh Tayfield (170 at 25.91) and Hedley Verity (144 at 24.38) are notable spinners who missed selection here.

© Anantha Narayanan

All fast bowlers who have taken over 150 wickets at home are in the graph above. Statham, Rabada and Vernon Philander are special inclusions. The 30 bowlers average 201 wickets between them at 23.65 when playing in home conditions.

Philander, Imran Khan, Marshall, Fred Trueman and Allan Donald are in the high-performers' area at top right, and they all average below 22 at home. Look at Philander - a strike rate of 42.0 and economy rate of 2.66.

Another array of attacking fast bowlers can be seen as we move down the graph. Rabada has the best home strike rate in over 100 years (32.7) but is extravagant (3.51). In fact, his extreme values have forced us to extend both axes. Waqar and Steyn also feature here.

Fast bowlers of recent vintage, such as James Anderson, Broad and Tim Southee can be seen as we move left, indicating that the batsmen are having their day now.

It looks as if most top bowlers were miserly at home: note the crowding at top left - many of the names in that area are all-time greats.

It must be understood that the placements on this graph are only relative: all but one of these 30 bowlers, Chaminda Vaas, still needed fewer than 60 balls to take a wicket.

There is a clear indication that different eras produce different patterns. Two recent bowlers, Steyn and Rabada, have rather high economy-rate values (well over 3.0) but compensate with very good strike rates (below 40). The combination leads to very good home averages (sub-22). Compare this to Statham or Walsh, who took 60 balls to take a wicket but were very accurate - again leading to home averages of under 23. In any era, a sub-20 home bowling average is outstanding, 20-24 great, and 24-28 very good. For spinners, of course, these ranges would be higher.

Trent Boult (138 at 24.28), Garner (123 at 22.34) and Lindwall (112 at 22.07) miss out.  

© Anantha Narayanan

Spinners at home: ah, what a colourful web they weave! Here the cutoff is 100 home wickets. Twenty-eight bowlers qualify, and the average for them is 170 wickets each at 25.91.

There are no surprises when we peruse the high-performing group. Laker and Lock were virtually unplayable at home; they conceded fewer than two runs per over and struck at around 60 balls between them. Murali was king in Sri Lanka - nearly 500 wickets at a sub-20 average. Jadeja and Grimmett are the others in that set.

Qadir, Warne, Ashwin, Yasir Shah, Kumble and some others conceded a few more runs than the bowlers above, but still had good strike rates. Lyon, Vettori and Kaneria have relatively high averages.

The familiar group of older-generation spinners populates the top-left area. All conceded less than 2.40 runs per over. Not represented here is Bapu Nadkarni, whose home economy rate was 1.59. However, he needed more than 100 balls to take a wicket. Against England in Madras in 1964, he returned figures of 32-27-5-0 - 21 of his 27 maidens came on the trot. The laws of the day helped Ken Barrington and Brian Bolus pad away most of the balls. Today, with the DRS and the law changes, Nadkarni would have likely taken many more wickets.

© Anantha Narayanan

Let us now move on to the away analyses. The cutoff for fast bowlers is 150 away wickets. Garner and Barnes are among five bowlers who don't meet that criterion but get in because of their low averages. The combined figures for the 26 bowlers here is 183 wickets each at 25.85.

Surprisingly, no fewer than ten bowlers have away strike-rate values below 58.0 and economy-rate values below 2.7, and crowd the middle-to-top right area. They include most of the great West Indian and Australian fast bowlers of recent decades. And, of course, Barnes.

The bowlers with the highest strike rates include Holding, Donald, Steyn and, at last, freed of Indian conditions, Zaheer. Towards the left we can see the bowlers who did not travel as well as them: Kapil, Botham, Anderson and Broad, among others.

In terms of accuracy, Alan Davidson stands alone at the top, with a remarkable economy rate of 1.82.

Pat Cummins (71 at 21.86) and George Lohmann (76 at 8.96) miss out here.

© Anantha Narayanan

Now for the away records of spinners. The qualifying criterion is 100 away wickets. Bill O'Reilly is a special inclusion. Together the 21 bowlers here average 163 wickets at 30.12.

A trio of Australian legspinners - O'Reilly, Grimmett and Benaud - travelled well, with strike rates better than 70 and economy rates better than 2.15. As we will see later, Benaud's is a very interesting case.

Murali and Warne lead the strike-bowler group. There are quite a few offspinners in this cluster: Lyon, Ashwin and Graeme Swann, apart from Murali.

The three spinners in the lower-left area - Kumble, Rangana Herath and Harbhajan - all have away bowling averages in excess of 35. The contrast between home and away figures is very marked for Kumble and Herath.

The usual collection of accurate spinners, this time with the addition of Sonny Ramadhin, is in the tight bowlers' group. At home too, in fact, Ramadhin was more economical than Gibbs.

© Anantha Narayanan

We now come to arguably the two most important segments of this article: which bowlers bowled best in Asia and outside Asia? Because under 30% (662 out of 2365) of all Tests have been played in Asia, it is necessary to lower the criterion to 60 away wickets taken on the continent. Wes Hall is a special inclusion. The average for the 21 bowlers here is 76 wickets per at 27.12.

I have shown fast bowlers and spinners together in these graphs, with colour-coding to differentiate between them. The figures for Asian bowlers pertain to their performances in Asian countries outside their own.

Surprisingly, almost all the top bowlers in Asia have been fast bowlers. Take a look at the top-right area. Pollock, Wasim Akram, McGrath, Walsh, Hall and Marshall have only Swann as spinner to keep them company. What could be the reason? Was it the inability of the local batsmen to play top pace (at least during the early years)? Or the adaptability of the top fast bowlers? Maybe a combination of both. The cutoff is not very steep.

Warne, Steyn and Hadlee are in the strike bowlers' group. With averages in excess of 37, Kumble and Kapil are in the bottom-left area: clearly some Asian bowlers found it difficult when they travelled within the subcontinent.

In the tight bowlers' group, most are spinners, led by Benaud.

© Anantha Narayanan

Outside Asia, a bowler ought to have taken over 130 wickets to qualify. Barnes and Grimmett are among the special inclusions. Together the 22 bowlers here average 160 wickets at 25.51 in non-Asian away locations.

Again, fast and spin bowlers are shown together. The figures for non-Asian bowlers pertain to their performances in non-Asian countries outside their own.

The top-right section is a veritable treasure house of great bowlers. With the exception of Warne, all are fast bowlers, and most have averages of around 20.

In the strike bowlers' group, Waqar and Donald lead the way, with Terry Alderman and Holding for company. The lower-left area features Kumble, Ishant Sharma, and Anderson - who all have averages significantly higher than 30 in away locations outside Asia.

In all, only four spinners - Warne, Kumble, Muralitharan and Grimmett - make it to this elite group. It is a tribute to their excellence. Kumble's haul of 200 non-Asian wickets is commendable, despite a high average of 35.

© Anantha Narayanan

Some bowlers were at sea at home, and they are listed in the graphic above. The criteria here are that the bowler should have averaged less away than at home, and should have taken at least 50 wickets at home and 50 away. Forty-two bowlers qualified; the top ten, in terms of the differential in home and away averages, feature here.

Trevor Bailey, the medium-fast bowler, surprisingly found English pitches not to his liking. He did well in South Africa and New Zealand. It is also a surprise that John Snow did better away, especially in Australia. Tony Greig loved bowling in the West Indies and New Zealand. Andrew Flintoff is yet another England bowler to who liked to travel, with a difference of over six in his averages.

In the 1950s and '60s, Australia was not the best place for a spinner to practise his trade. Benaud proves this with the wide difference between his home and away averages: he was great on tour, especially in Asia.

Andy Roberts did very well in England, as did Peter Pollock. O'Reilly liked to bowl in South Africa.

© Anantha Narayanan

In contrast to the previous lot, some bowlers dreaded travelling. The criteria here are similar to the ones above; except, these bowlers have lower averages at home than away. There were 101 bowlers to qualify, and the ten above have the highest differential between away and home averages.

Qadir averaged 20 more on the road than at home. Lock averaged 15 more, while his spin twin, Laker, also bowled significantly better at home. Two recent West Indian fast bowlers, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, have a differential of over 15. We have already seen that Jadeja is king at home and a commoner away. Rabada's and Vinoo Mankad's figures are similar to Jadeja's. As we can see, Fazal Mahmood liked those matting pitches in 1950s Pakistan a lot.

An interesting sidelight here. Shakib Al Hasan has a home average of 31.06 and an away average of 31.22. Shoaib Akhtar's home average was 25.71 and his away average 25.67. These two are the closest to perfect parity between home and away averages.

At the end of the analysis, these facts stand out:

- Pace bowlers' success in Asia

- The chalk-and-cheese showing of Philander, Rabada and Jadeja home and away

- Warne's outstanding away bowling

- Barnes towering above the rest a la Bradman

- Benaud's bowling in Asia

- Murali's home performance

- The lack of success for Asian spinners in other Asian countries

- The elite placement of Marshall and McGrath in almost all graphs

Correction, 25 February, 2020: The following statement near the start of this article - "Over the 2365 Test matches, the mean home batting average is 4.3% better than the mean away batting average" - contains an error. This difference was evaluated based on WBA (Weighted Batting Average) and using a subset of innings (Top seven and with run-qualification). The bowling difference was on the total population - 2300-plus Tests and all wickets - Bradman to Martin. Thus, the batting and bowling values are not exactly comparable because the population sets are different. Fortunately, it was only mentioned in passing and was not used anywhere else. My sincere apologies. Many thanks to Ian Eldersaw from Sydney who suggested a review of the figures. The actual differences are below. For all three values, all Tests are considered.

Batting Average: Home 32.14. Away 28.54. Difference 12.6%.
WBA: Home 29.11. Away 26.19. Difference 11.1%.
Bowling: Home 29.94. Away 33.84. Difference 13.0%.

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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems