Does it matter where India play at home?
India’s recent 3-0 drubbing of South Africa came before an almost non-existent crowd in Ranchi, which was hosting only its second test match. This was a far cry from 20 years ago, when a jam-packed Chepauk stadium in Chennai gave the Pakistani team a standing ovation after a thrilling test match. After the South African whitewash, Indian captain Virat Kohli had this suggestion to restore interest in test cricket in India. “So, in my opinion, we should have five strong test centres," he said. “The team coming to India will know this is where we are going to play and nowhere else."
That is indeed the case among other test-playing nations, which have a system of a few ‘core’ test venues. Even though some tests are played in non-traditional venues, the majority of tests in these countries take place in a handful of venues that are often steeped in cricketing tradition.
A country-wise analysis of all tests played since 2010 shows that all test-playing nations have 2-6 major venues, where most of their tests are played. For instance, since 2010, South Africa has played over 95% of its home tests in five core venues. Similarly, Australia has five core venues, which have hosted 86% of its tests since 2010.
In the same period, the 48 tests that India has hosted have been in 16 venues, across 13 states and union territories. Even if one takes the top seven in this list, each of which has hosted at least four test matches over this nine-year period, the corresponding share of tests adds up to just 69%.
Eden Gardens in Kolkata has hosted six tests, the most among all venues. Traditional test-playing cities such as Chennai and Kanpur have seen just two tests and one test, respectively. Instead, non-traditional venues such as Hyderabad, Nagpur and Mohali are increasingly hosting tests.
This is partly a construct of India’s size and its dispersed cricketing structure. For example, the premier domestic cricket tourney features 37 teams across two tiers. By comparison, both Australia and South Africa have 6 teams each. Thus, for India, there are reasons that both pull and push test cricket to new places. In the process, given that a country hosts five tests a year on average, older centres will end up losing out.
Starting with England at the Bombay Gymkhana in 1933, India has hosted 270 Test matches in 27 venues across 20 cities. About two-thirds of these tests have been held in six traditional venues: Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Chepauk in Chennai, Wankhede in Mumbai, Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, and Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.
Of the nine home venues where India has played at least 10 tests, Mohali is the most successful venue. Of the 13 matches played there, India have won 7 (a win record of 54%), drawn 5 and lost 1. It is followed by Wankhede and Chepauk, with win records of 44% each. Even in terms of losing, Mohali has the lowest loss percentage of 8% (the remaining being wins or draws), followed by Brabourne Stadium (11%) and Green Park (14%).
However, to understand India’s relative strength in certain venues, it would be of value to consider India’s home performance since the 1990s, when Indians started winning a whole lot more (as opposed to draws), earning the epithet, ‘tigers at home, kittens abroad’. This is also the time when more tests started taking place in non-traditional venues such as Mohali, Hyderabad and Nagpur.
In the 20-year period between 1990 and 2010, India played tests at 14 home venues. It improved its record at most home venues, with the Feroz Shah Kotla being a virtual fortress, where India won 7 of 8 tests played, while drawing 1. However, not all venues were as fruitful. For instance, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, India won just 2 of its 7 tests, while losing 4.
During this period, India played 77 matches, compiling a winning percentage of 49% and a winning/drawing percentage of 83%. Since 2010, India’s home record has further improved: a winning percentage of 73% and a winning/drawing percentage of 92% in 48 tests. Even as India has played in more venues, to the point where tests in new venues outnumber those in traditional venues, it has mattered little from a results perspective. It might to the opposition, believes Kohli.
A return to a system of core test venues for India is mixed news. It might bring larger crowds, but it might not do justice to the overwhelming diversity of cricketing conditions or centres in the country. Lastly, considering the fractious relationship between various state associations that comprise the Indian cricketing board, it is highly unlikely this proposition will see the light of the day.
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