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Is lack of practice games the reason for poor overseas performances?

Steve Smith of Australia speaks to his players before they take to the field during day three of the First Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 25, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
23rd August, 2018
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The first bit of cricket I remember watching was in 1991/92 as a young boy. This was during India’s tour to Australia.

A series in which India played four Test matches and a long Tri-Series where the third team was West Indies.

Tours those days were long. Lots of practice games before and in-between Test matches. There were long breaks between games and generally teams had a lot of time.

The most amazing part of that tour was that the practice games India played were against full strength first-class teams.

Even the Australian players who were involved in the Test series played for their FC sides against India. So all the games on the tour were competitive.

This was the case during India’s visit to England as well in 1996. The first class team were mostly full strength and with the ability to beat a visiting side in familiar conditions.

Cricket has changed a lot since then. Teams don’t have enough time these days and most of the overseas tours are compressed and don’t last more than two months.

The other thing to note is that teams have increasingly become poor overseas. Teams do well at home but when they travel abroad they struggle.

One popular theory for such bad performances is not having enough time to prepare for a series and playing less practice games.

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The other theory is that the teams are just not good enough in this era to adapt to different conditions.

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There is a third theory floating around that teams are taking their home advantage to a whole new level by giving the visiting teams flat wickets ahead of a Test series.

Dean Elgar said that Sri Lanka gave them a flat track ahead of the Test series which they lost 2-0 and Angelo Mathews responded likewise regarding their tour to South Africa last time they played.

Also the teams the visiting sides get to play these days aren’t the first X1s of FC teams either.

Pakistan earlier this year just had one practice game before their ODI series in New Zealand. The one game they played was against a bunch of rookies who hardly had any List A experience. The visitors raked up 300+ with the bat and blew away the opposition.

What followed in the ODI series was quite a contrast of the practice game they played ahead of the series.

So which one of the above is true? Are practice games really the reason for teams struggling to cope up with different conditions?

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I think the answer lies somewhere in between. It is true that teams get increasingly less amount of time to acclimatise to the conditions.

For example South Africa, who haven’t played much in sub-continent recently, just had a two-day warm up game before going into a tough Test series against Sri Lanka.

India did not play any practice games in South Africa and it was as if they were using the Test matches for practice.

There is also case to be made for Elgar’s claim as it is true that teams have become increasing savvy these days.

The pitches and the teams provided to the visiting teams these days are nowhere close to what they would encounter in the actual series.

It is also true that the teams in the current era aren’t the strongest and are finding it more difficult to adapt to the alien conditions.

For example, the great Australian team would have still beaten all comers even if they did not play a single practice game.

Even though all the above factors play a role it is imperative that boards need to be smart while organising tours if they want their teams to perform better.

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In spite of the quality of the opposition, the visiting teams should request for multiple practice games if possible.

Playing any cricket on tour even if the conditions are polar opposite of what you would face in the actual game is crucial to get the confidence up.

Even if that is not possible, the teams should be sent ahead of time and should be able to request practice wickets which they feel they will encounter in Tests.

This will at least give them the feel of what it would be like to play on such wickets. India now have done it two series in a row where they have not opted for practice games and the results are here to see.

The old adage of “Practice makes perfect” still holds true in this era and teams who realise that will progress better in the coming years.

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