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Australia have won 141 of the 392 Tests they have played away, and are the only team to have more away wins than losses

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Stats Analysis

Which team is the best of them all away from home?

A deep dive into winning and losing streaks by countries on tour

Anantha Narayanan  |  

In February I analysed the performance of teams on their home patch. This is a companion piece that evaluates how teams competed away.

Irrespective of the minor differences between the SCG and the MCG, or Lord's and The Oval, matches at home can be considered similar. Home is home - a place of comfort, support, familiar conditions and solid performances.

Playing away is a different ball game. "Home" is one country. "Away" is one of a dozen (considering, for the purposes of this article, the West Indies as one country). Playing away means negotiating a cold Auckland, a hot Colombo, and a rainy Manchester. It involves tackling square turners, seamers' paradises, trampoline pitches and flat strips. There are challenges related to food, accommodation and local culture. And finally, let us face it: during the first 100 years or so, travelling teams had home umpires to contend with.

For the first part of this analysis, which covers all of Test history, I have classified the away matches as Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and non-Asia (the rest). While there isn't complete uniformity of conditions within these groups, there is some natural logic in clustering these countries together. At any rate, I am merely showing the region where the matches were played and letting the readers derive their own insights. In the latter part of the analysis, for the period 2000 to 2020, the groupings are different. There I identify a group of countries that are tough for touring teams to succeed in.

A note about exclusions:

Forty-four Tests in 19 series played on neutral grounds have been excluded. From the 1912 Triangular tournament played in England, only the six Tests involving England are included. In the 1999 Asian Test Championship, the final, between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Dhaka, is excluded. (In the next Asian Test Championship, in 2001-02, all matches were played on home or away grounds.) All Tests played in the UAE are excluded since UAE is a neutral territory.

In general, when I look at a team's away performance, I will look at it more in terms of how it has performed across periods. A team's mindset can change completely across periods. In the latter part of the article, I will look across teams. In that section I will do two levels of analyses: one for the entire 143 years of Test history and the other for the past 20 years. Test matches and series are covered separately.

The Result Index (RI), is normally based on a simple 2-1-0 (Win-Draw-Loss) system. However, I feel that that a blanket 50% points for draws is inaccurate. Instead, I will use a more nuanced allocation, as follows:

Win: 3.0 points
Tie: 2.0 points
Draw1: 1.5 points (two innings completed)
Draw2: 1.0 points (two innings not completed)
Loss: 0.0 points

The RI formula is: RI = 100.0 * (3.0*Wins + 2.0*Ties + 1.5*Draw1s + 1.0*Draw2s) / (3.0*Matches)

Team summaries
The team results below are divided into periods. Only the 2000-20 period is common to all teams. The earlier periods are determined based on every country's historical needs. There are no definite rules for these cut-offs.

Wins and ties are shown in shades of red, draws in grey, and losses in black. I have highlighted the primary streaks - wins or losses or draws - with black lines above and below the squares. I have underlined the secondary streaks - no wins or no losses or no draws - in red. In order not to clutter up the graphs, when there are over two streaks of equal length, only one streak is highlighted. All away Tests played in Asia are identified with a white circle at the centre.

The analysis is current up to the second Test between New Zealand and India in Christchurch earlier this year. Let us move on to the graphs, starting with Australia.

© Anantha Narayanan

Overall, Australia have had fairly good away outings with an overall RI value above 50 and more wins than losses. They are the only team that can boast of such a record.

In the first period, from 1880 to 1938, all of Australia's tours, other than three visits to South Africa, were to England. They managed to achieve a 50-plus RI on the back of giants like Don Bradman, Stan McCabe, Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O'Reilly.

In the post-war period, from 1946 to 1974, Australia started touring other countries and did much better. Their win-loss ratio was a very good 1.7. They won many series in Asia, going unbeaten there during the period. Lindsay Hassett and Richie Benaud were the main captains. In the next period, 1975 to 1999, Australia lost more than they won and their RI fell below 50. It would have been even worse had they not recovered strongly in the 1990s.

The post-millennium years have been very good. Despite a relatively poor showing in the last few years, they have gone back to a 55-plus RI value. The first 12 years of this century were very good; their RI exceeded 60 then. The team, launched by Mark Taylor and nurtured by Steve Waugh, went on to greater heights under Ricky Ponting.

Australia's record streak of six away wins, as well as six away losses, have come in these 20 years. Their streak of five draws came in the first period, while their 15-Test unbeaten streak was just after World War II. Around the start of the millennium, Australia had a 23-Test all-results streak, which included their losses in Kolkata and Chennai in the famous 2001 series.

© Anantha Narayanan

England's overall RI stands at a little over 47. During the first period, 1877 to 1939, England made merry in South Africa and performed competently in Australia. This gave them a positive record. The number of draws picked up towards the end of that era. Sydney Barnes, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Wally Hammond et al formed the backbone of these English sides.

In the period after World War II, 1946 to 1974, England maintained this level of performance. However, more than half their Tests were drawn. England were determined not to lose, especially in the subcontinent. Not necessarily a very watchable period, but an effective one. Len Hutton and Peter May led with distinction.

The period from 1975 to 1999 was sub-par. England's losses far outweighed their wins, and the RI was barely above 40. Barring the odd Ashes win, there was nothing to write home about.

England have improved in the last 20 years, but though the number of draws has, there have been fewer wins than losses mark. Their RI for the period is a reasonable 45%. Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been the backbone of the team in this era.

Just before World War I, England won seven consecutive Tests in Australia and South Africa. Their streak of seven losses came in 1993. The seven draws and the two long unbeaten streaks happened during the mid-1960s. The extraordinary all-results streak - 66 Tests - occurred in the days of timeless Tests.

© Anantha Narayanan

In their first 60 years of cricket, South Africa hardly travelled. When they did, they did not fare well. During these six decades they barely won a sixth of the Tests played away and lost nearly half. Their streak of 20 Tests without a win came during this period.

When South Africa returned to international cricket, they were a strong side. During the short eight-year span between 1992 and 1999, they registered an RI above 50 with more wins than losses.

South Africa have done well in the last two decades, barring a disastrous last two years in which they have lost their last seven away Tests - a record for them. Yet their RI here is above 50 and their wins exceed their losses. In the middle of this period, they had a streak of 17 Tests in which they did not lose, thanks partly to Graeme Smith, a leader par excellence.

© Anantha Narayanan

West Indies did fairly well in their first period, between 1928 and 1974, finishing with an RI approaching 50. Their number of wins was only just below their number of losses. Most of these wins came after World War II, when Garry Sobers and the three Ws entered the picture.

Then followed a (mostly) golden period of 25 years. In 20 of these years West Indies were on top, and in the final five years, in the late 1990s, they slid drastically, a precursor of things to come. However, across the period as a whole, they managed a very good RI of 53. These years encompassed the eras of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards and their pace batteries. The unbeaten streak of 17 Tests, the win streak of eight Tests, and a draw streak of five Tests all came during this period.

The last two decades have been very poor for West Indies. An RI value of 23 and a loss-win factor of 5.5 tells the story better than words can. West Indies had their record 12-losses streak between 2004 and 2006. Brian Lara, great batsman though he was, had virtually no bowlers who could win matches abroad.

© Anantha Narayanan

New Zealand's overall RI of 33 is not surprising. During their first 40-odd years in Test cricket, they could not handle it away from home. A mere four wins and 29 losses in that phase meant their RI was around 30. Their longest winless streak, 30 Tests, started from their very first Test and ended when they won at Newlands in 1962.

New Zealand's second period, from 1976 to 1999, was slightly better. Their loss count was now only three times their win count - a major improvement. Their RI in this period was 34. They endured a streak of six losses here, while a winless streak of 25 Tests spanned their first and second periods.

This relative improvement was maintained in the post-millennial decades. At least New Zealand are winning matches on the road: 22% of their matches were wins, the highest of the three periods. The RI of 34.2 here is a fair reflection of their efforts.

© Anantha Narayanan

India struggled on the road in their early years as a Test team. The first period, from 1932 to 1974, produced an RI of around 25, lower than New Zealand's then. A streak of eight draws was an achievement, although this was offset by the disastrous streak of 17 losses between 1959 and 1968. India were whitewashed in four away series on the trot. Their streak of 43 winless Tests came in this period.

In the second period, from 1976 to 1999, India's RI improved to around 35. Yet the loss-win ratio was around 4.5. Three of India's four winless streaks of 20 or more Tests came almost entirely during this period. Over 50% of the Tests were drawn. This was the era of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and the spin quartet.

However, the millennium changed things. While not matching Australia and England's 50-plus values, India's RI in the last two decades has been a creditable 46.5. Their win count is quite close to the loss count. Their win streak of five Tests came in 2004-05. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli et al have contributed to this improvement. As many as 38 of India's 51 away wins have come about in the past 20 years.

© Anantha Narayanan

Overall, Pakistan have performed quite well on tour. From Fazal Mahmood to Naseem Shah, they have always had effective fast bowlers. Maybe that explains their overall RI value of 42.6.

The first period of 20 odd years yielded an acceptable RI of 36. Pakistan's emphasis was on not losing: the proportion of drawn Tests exceed 50%, and there were three stretches of five draws each contained almost entirely in this period.

The second period, 1976 to 1999, was far better. Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and then the two great fast bowlers, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, made sure that Pakistan had a very creditable RI of 47.4. The number of wins were very close to the number of losses, while the proportion of draws fell off.

The post-millennial decades have been a collection of many wins, more losses, and very few drawn Tests. The net result is an RI of just over 40. The stretch of five away wins came in 2001-02. Pakistan have ended this period with a streak of 24 Tests with no draws, which is still active. The last six of these Tests have been losses.

© Anantha Narayanan

By now, we can predict the first period for new teams - an RI of around 30, very few wins, and a host of losses. Sri Lanka's first win came in their 32nd Test. Their record six-losses streak came in the 1995-97 period. Despite the presence of Muttiah Muralitharan, winning away was not that easy.

The post-millennial years were better. Sri Lanka's batting was strengthened as the partnership of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene grew. Along with Murali's outstanding skills, this made for a good first decade. Although the results have tapered off recently, the overall RI of 39.5 during these 20 years is creditable. Sri Lanka have won two away Tests in a row several times but never three.

© Anantha Narayanan

What can we expect when Zimbabwe and Bangladesh go on the road? The profusion of black squares tell the story. The loss streaks are long: ten and 16 Tests for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh respectively. However, Bangladesh have achieved something creditable: winning two successive Tests outside Asia, in the West Indies in 2009.

The higher RI for Zimbabwe, 16 as compared to Bangladesh's 9.8, is because they have managed to draw a lot more Tests. Bangladesh have played entirely in the result-dominated period of the new millennium.

© Anantha Narayanan

A summary of away Tests - all 143 years
To achieve, as Australia have done, an away RI above 52 across almost a century and a half of Test cricket is something very, very special. In fact, if this analysis was done a few years ago, Australia would have been above 55. We are talking of performances in countries thousands of miles apart and on pitches of every type. To have a win-loss ratio above 1.0 through all this is indeed amazing.

England and South Africa are around the 45 mark - England helped by their early years and South Africa by their recent ones. One of the main reasons why these teams have done well away is that have usually had very good pace attacks and competent spinners. Both sides have a win-loss ratio of around 0.8.

The next two teams, West Indies and Pakistan, have RI values of about 42, and win-loss ratios around 0.65. West Indies have had testing times recently, which has seen their RI plummet. Pakistan play most of their cricket on the neutral grounds of the UAE and have been quite inconsistent while travelling.

India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand form the next tier, with RI values in a two-point range either side of 35. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh form the lowest rung.

© Anantha Narayanan

A summary of away Tests - last 20 years
Two teams stand out over the past two decades: Australia and South Africa. Both have RI values above 50, with Australia substantially ahead. As already stated, but for the recent blips, these figures would be even better. Both teams have win-loss ratios above 1.

India's recent improvement in away performances is confirmed by their third-place position on this table. Their RI here is nearly 46 and their win-loss ratio is quite close to 1. England's figures are only marginally lower.

The mid-table teams are Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Note how low West Indies are on this table: an RI of 22.5 and a win-loss ratio of 0.18 tell the story.

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A summary of away series - all 143 years
For series, I have used the standard 2-1-0 scale while determining the RI. There is no doubt that series wins are more important than Test wins, especially away. Also, a drawn series deserves more credit than a drawn Test.

Australia are at the top of the table again with an RI of 53.2 and a win-loss ratio of 1.16. These are the values of a truly great cricket country. Australia have won 15 series in England; the last of those, however, was in 2001.

South Africa have managed to remain close to Australia. They have a win-loss ratio of 1.0 and an RI of nearly 51. As we will see later, this has been mainly achieved through their recent performances. South Africa have won most often in New Zealand - six times. At 48.9, England is quite close to these values; they have posted 14 series wins in Australia and ten in New Zealand.

Pakistan have a very creditable RI of 44.5. They have won most often in New Zealand - seven times. West Indies top the 40 mark mainly through their performances in the middle period. The most successful touring location for West Indies is England, where they have won on eight occasions.

India are way down with an RI of 33.1, just above Sri Lanka. India have won most often in the West Indies - five times, the majority of them in recent years.

© Anantha Narayanan

A summary of away series - last 20 years
I have made two significant changes for this graph. The first is that, instead of a bar graph for the RI, I have represented each series with a square. This gives us a clearer idea of the trends. Also, since this pertains to the post-millennium period, it is possible to determine the countries most difficult to tour. These are Australia, England, South Africa and India. I have represented tours to these countries with a white circle in the centre. So that only complete series are considered, the first series taken in this set is India v South Africa, which started in February 2000.

Australia and South Africa are very close together again in this table. Both had great starts and recently have had their lows. They have clocked RI values of nearly 60. South Africa's win-loss ratio is a very high 1.60, just ahead of Australia. Australia have won four series each in South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies in the last 20 years. South Africa have won three series each in Australia and West Indies during the same period, and notched up noteworthy wins in India and Pakistan. Note how these two strong teams have done well when touring each other.

Australia tend to player longer series than South Africa. Their average series lasts 3.35 Tests as against 2.82 for South Africa. In the long run this difference does not matter since the length of a series can work both ways - it allows a team to consolidate on their victories, as well as recover from losses.

India's wins in Australia, England and Pakistan have been their highlights in these two decades. They have won in Bangladesh and West Indies four times each. Their RI is almost the same as England's, around 47. England's Ashes win in 2010-11, and their victories in India, Pakistan and three in South Africa have stood out. Pakistan, with an RI of 44.7, won three times each in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The come New Zealand and Sri Lanka, grouped around the 35 mark in terms of RI. Finally, West Indies, whose only wins in this period came in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe; Bangladesh, who won only in West Indies; and Zimbabwe, who won only in Bangladesh.

The visual depiction of the series results brings to the fore these highlights:

- Australia's early dominance and their recent drop. In particular, their remarkable sequence of six away series wins, equally split between the tough countries and the others
- South Africa's sequence of 13 series without a loss between 2007 and 2015
- India's poor patch a few years ago when they lost six consecutive series
- Pakistan's propensity for drawing away series
- Bangladesh's 14-series losing streak

Conclusion
Without any doubt, Australia are the best touring team across the history of Test cricket. Their RI of over 50 and win-loss ratio of above 1.0 tell us this. They have achieved this feat in matches as well as series.

However, I would say that South Africa have been the best touring team in the past 20 years - just about edging past Australia. While Australia are ahead on the figures for matches, series are the more important unit. Here, the RI values of the teams are comparable, around 59. Their win-loss ratios, too, are quite similar, around 1.6. Each team edges the other on one of these two values. Both teams have also achieved six of their series wins in difficult countries.

Ultimately, the clinching factor is the unbeaten 13-series streak for South Africa, not so far from West Indies' 18-series loss-less streak in the 1980s and '90s. During their streak, South Africa won 17 Tests, drew 12 and lost just four.

Email me with your comments and I will respond. I will also use this email id to send readers information on the publication of new articles. Please note that this email is to be used only for sending in your comments.

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

 

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