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Asian cricketers still getting mauled when straying far from home

World governing body wants to implement proposals to avoid 'boring' games

SEOUL -- In a rare win far from home, India defeated England in a test cricket match on Aug. 22 in Nottingham. After losing two tests earlier in the month, the emphatic victory was greeted with relief in South Asia.

"The aim of this team is to be the best traveling team in the world," said Ravi Shastri, India's head coach, after the victory. "And I believe they're almost there."

But as history has shown, this is far easier said than done. Home advantage can play a part in many sports, such as soccer, but perhaps nowhere is it so influential as in the game spread around parts of the world by the British in the 19th century.

From the first test match in 1877 until 2017, about 40% of the games went to the home team, with visitors pulling out wins a mere 26% of the time. The rest have been ties.

As lopsided as these long-term stats are, they have only become more skewed. From 2001, the hosts' victory percentage increased to 48%, and then to nearly 52% from 2011.

The game's global governing body, the International Cricket Council, or ICC, is concerned that home advantage is making test cricket predictable and ultimately, boring. It said in 2016 that it was concerned about the quality of pitches "and in particular the common practice of home countries overtly preparing surfaces to suit their own teams."

The 20-meter-long strip of grass on which the game is played can have a major effect on outcomes. In England for example, the relatively damp and overcast conditions -- and greener pitches -- tend to make it easier for bowlers to swing the ball in the air and more difficult for batsmen. In South Asia, however, playing surfaces tend to be hard, dusty and flat, which favors slow spin bowlers.

Former Australia captain Steve Smith used to be perplexed when watching teams from his home country struggle on the subcontinent. "I was like: 'What's going on here? Why can't these boys play?'" Smith said.

He soon discovered why. When playing his first games in India, he found that the average local club bowlers were harder to deal with than the best that Australia had to offer. "Just because they know how the ball behaves -- it's kind of understanding and watching the ball so closely that you can identify what it's going to do. It's still hard to predict, because it's so inconsistent, but you get a fair idea. And you can only do that by experiencing it."

All cricketing nations have problems overseas but South Asia is a little more extreme. Sri Lanka routinely wins at home but has won just two series away against non South Asian opposition this century -- once facing England and another against Zimbabwe, one of the weakest test-playing nations. Meanwhile, India has gone on to become the number one test nation, as ranked by the ICC, due almost entirely to its formidable strength at home.

From August 2015 to December 2017, India played 30 test matches in South Asia, winning an impressive 21, tying seven and losing just two. But away from South Asia, the team is much less imperious. In the last seven series played in England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, it lost all seven.

"South Asian cricket teams and their supporters are sensitive to the issue of home advantage," said Indian writer Mukul Kesavan. "The charge that subcontinental teams are poor tourists is acutely felt. Indians console themselves by thinking that the Sri Lankan record is even more lopsided. They win everything at home and nothing abroad."

India captain and star batsman Virat Kohli denied the team did not have what it takes to win in England this summer. "We have the skill sets, character and mental toughness which is required to compete and win in overseas conditions," Kohli said.

"When you play here in conditions, you have to accept that even if you are batting on 100, you are not set," he added. "You can get a good ball at any time and you have to accept that as a batsman when you go out to bat."

There were proposals to remove the coin toss from tests and allow the visiting captain to decide whether to bat or bowl first, which can be useful, but the proposals were not implemented.

Hence, for the time being at least, home advantage will continue to be a major factor in test cricket.

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