“India wins only in India.”
You know a good critic when the magic words are uttered. Every series that India wins at home is usually accompanied by a generous dose of sarcasm that points out ‘the pitiful away record’ with unabandoned glee.
The initial statement is often followed by another rhetorical question: “So how many wins do we have overseas?”
Any talk of Virat Kohli’s record as skipper often brings more such arguments to the surface. There is no end to it really – no end to how India’s dominance at home is scoffed at.
While the away record is indeed important because it proves that the team can win in all conditions, it isn’t the sole marker of greatness. Indeed, it can never be.
The question that perhaps takes precedence here is a slightly different one: can one have a good away record without having a good home record?
Most great teams build on a good home record and then take that confidence to the home of the opposition. The wins at home allow players to trust their abilities more, to become mentally stronger and to have belief in the abilities of the group as a whole. One might even argue that across sport, a good home record is the base upon which great dynasties are built.
Cricket, like so many other sports, is all about the mind games. You may have all the skills in the world but if you keep losing all the time, it is going to affect your game too.
So a good home record is vital if a team is really looking to take things up to the next level.
It is interesting to look at the home records of Test playing nations over the years. In the early years, only England, Australia and South Africa played a decent amount of cricket. There wasn’t much to write home about. Tours were long, home seasons were longer.
Home records: from 1877 to 1950
Between 1950 and 1990, other countries started playing a lot more cricket. But success for India, even at home, was difficult to come by. India did win but they also lost a fair bit. And when they didn’t lose, they drew quite a few games.
India drew almost as many matches as Australia, who played almost seventy matches more. The era was characterised by a safety-first approach, which would often see India prioritise not losing over winning. A bit dour but it was also the period in which the country just about started to find its feet in Test cricket.
There were defeats but there were also some memorable triumphs. New Zealand in 1967. West Indies in 1971. England in 1971... the initial wins gave great confidence to India; confidence that they too could compete.
On the other hand, Pakistan were nearly unbeatable at home. Some said it was due to the umpiring which had a ‘home bias’ but reverse swing was a huge part of the equation too.
From 1950 to 1990
It was only after 1990 that India truly began to dominate at home. Under Mohammad Azharuddin, India would often play three spinners and the rise of Anil Kumble truly helped. The batting, with the emergence of Sachin Tendulkar, started to come along as well.
And after that India didn’t look back. They became incredibly difficult to beat at home. Still, they weren’t the most difficult to beat at home – that honour belonged to Australia. India have been very good but Australia have been even better.
It’s also worth noticing that almost every decent Test team started to win more than they lost at home during this period. Some say it is a sign of the decline in standards, others point to the influence of new formats.
From 1990 to present
However, India would have been far behind Australia but for the gains they have made in the last decade. In fact, India’s winning run at home is unprecedented. No one wins so often at home.
Virat Kohli’s Indian team has an astounding record of 33 wins in the 55 matches they have played. Of those 33 wins, an incredible 20 have come in 26 Tests at home.
Ever since Kohli first became captain, he has spoken about wanting to change the overseas record. Perhaps, they were just words at first – a statement of intent.
Now, however, India have reached the point where their home record should start having a positive impact on their away record too. But even if it doesn’t, one can’t deny, it’s been a good run. Nay, it’s been a great run.
Home and away is a way to measure success but at the end of the day, a win is a win... is a win.