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Opinion

Test cricket's home and away bowlers

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Roar Guru
30th June, 2021
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Today I thought I’d take a fairly haphazard ramble through the world of cricket statistics, focussing on bowlers and their records at home-and-away.

Overall analysis
How well do bowlers perform at home compared to away? Unlike batsmen it can very much depend on the style of bowler and what their ‘home’ looks like.

For example Jimmy Anderson has an imposing home record on his swinging, seaming English tracks. He averages well under 24 but is 34 per cent worse once he boards a plane and heads overseas.

In contrast, Ashley Giles the famous ‘King of Spain’, was a 10.4 per cent better bowler overseas, where he presumably received some assistance for his non-threatening leg stump offerings.

The away from home advantage was even more pronounced for the modest talent of Robin Croft who send down slow straight ones for England in the 1990s.

He averaged a soul-destroying 68.71 at home but an extremely respectable 24.65 away.

Here is the overall picture for home-and-away bowlers:

Home Away
Average % Progressive % Progressive
under 20 11,10% 11,10% 5,70% 5,70%
20 to 25 18,00% 29,20% 11,60% 17,30%
25 to 30 21,90% 51,00% 19,80% 37,10%
30 to 35 21,30% 72,40% 23,00% 60,10%
35 to 40 11,00% 83,40% 11,00% 71,00%
over 40 16,60% 100,00% 29,00% 100,00%

Compared to total bowlers in the qualifying population, there are nearly twice the proportion of bowlers averaging under 20 in home conditions compared to away.

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Just over half of all bowlers average under 30 at home compared to only 37per cent achieving this mark away. A whopping 29 per cent of all bowlers average over 40 away from home.

Even so, let’s not lose sight of the fact that 17.3 per cent, nearly one in five, of all bowlers still averaged under 25 away from home. That’s 121 individual bowlers.

So it is generally harder to bowl away, both due to the bowler being out of his comfort zone and also the opposing batsmen being very firmly in theirs. But some bowlers do adapt very well.

Of course there are other factors involved that influence a bowler’s away performance. Relative team strength is obviously a factor. For example, it would have been a lot easier to perform away to Zimbabwe, than to visit the 1984 era West Indies or 2002 Australians.

Jimmy Anderson

Jimmy Anderson exuberantly celebrates the wicket of Mitchell Marsh at Edgbaston in 2015. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Where a bowler plays his away games is also important. A New Zealand pace bowler whose entire away game career is in England will likely be better off than his mate who only got to tour India.

Terry Alderman has an away average of 25.64 compared to a home average of 29.41 thanks to the 1981 tour of England in perfect conditions for Alderman’s bowling style.

Graeme Gooch’s enormous Watto-like front pad didn’t hurt either.

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A note on qualification for this analysis – it was a bit arbitrary and complex but basically I’ve tried to capture every bowler who took at least ten career wickets either at home or away. Then I cut out some part timers by reviewing bowlers with a career wickets per Test of less than one either at home or away. If they took less than one wicket per Test away but more than two wickets per at home, and vice versa, then I left them in as they were not necessarily part timers, just hopeless in their non-preferred location. Clear as mud? Good. This left me with a population of 763 bowlers to examine.

Great home bowlers and home track bullies
With a ten wicket qualification the greatest home bowler of all time is Fred “Nutty” Martin of England, who took 12 wickets for 102 runs in his single home Test in 1890, against Australia.

Despite this being the best Ashes debut for the next 82 years, he did not receive another chance, even while taking 1,317 career first class wickets at an average of 17.4.

Martin did play an away Test in South Africa a couple of years later and took 2 for 39 after not even getting a bowl in the first innings.

If we make the cut off 10 home Tests then we arrive at the legendary SF Barnes who took 63 home wickets at 13.38. I should also give a massive shout out to emerging Kiwi star Kyle Jamieson.

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This giant of a bowler currently averages 13.27 at home from six matches, nabbing six wickets per test.

If we raise the cut off to 100 home wickets, we find English off spinner Jim Laker, the man who holds the world record of 19 wickets taken in a single test.

Laker took 135 home wickets at 18.08. It should be noted his away average is nearly 60per cent worse than at home. This is not a very impressive traveller, but there are plenty worse. Jacob Oram, another super-tall Kiwi bowler, averaged 18.75 at home from 13 Tests.

That is an all-time great record from a decent sample of Tests.

Unfortunately for Oram we also have a decent sample for his away Tests, where in 20 attempts he took all of one wicket per Test at the uninspiring average of 63.9 per cent. This away performance is nearly 241 per cent worse than his home efforts and makes David Warner look like a brilliant all conditions performer.

Oram’s contrasting record is by no means an isolated occurrence. There are 62 bowlers in this analysis who possess away averages that were at least double their home efforts.

This includes such players as: 1930s West Indian superstar all-rounder Learie Constantine, Australia’s Sideshow Bob pace bowler Mike Whitney and English hometown swing bully Chris Woakes.

Here is a selection of noted home town performers from each Test nation and how they went overseas:

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Vernon Philander (South Africa). Home: 146 wickets at 19.08. Away: 72 at 28.81. -51per cent difference.

There must be something in those South African pitches because current attack leader Kagiso Rabada has an even greater differential between home-and-away performances: -54per cent.

Imran Khan (Pakistan). Home: 163 wickets at 19.2. Away: 199 at 25.76. -34per cent difference.

These are interesting numbers for the legendary Imran Khan, when we do not think of Asia as being traditionally friendly for pace bowling, but that’s always been more true in India and Sri Lanka. Waqar Younis had a similar record, with a 28per cent differential between home-and-away.

Tony Lock (England). Home: 104 wickets at 19.51. Away: 70 at 34.58. -77per cent difference.

Interesting that the famous Laker and Lock duo were both significantly more effective in England than elsewhere, which is counter to the common narrative of that country as a seamer’s paradise.

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka). Home: 493 wickets at 19.56. Away: 307 at 27.79. -42per cent difference.

While very good in all conditions and with more away wickets than most players take in a career, there is no doubt that Muralitharan was the master of his home conditions.

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Bruce Reid (Australia). Home: 84 wickets at 20.05. Away: 29 at 37.89. -89per cent difference.

Bruce Reid’s career is definitely a case of what might have been. In between injuries he produced the best home record in history by an Australian to have played as many as his 17 Tests. But oddly, he was decidedly average away from home. I’d say bounce was a huge factor in what made Reid such a great bowler.

Another injury prone Australian pace bowler, Victorian firebrand James Patterson also excelled at home, but is a 52 per cent worse bowler outside of Australia.

Ravindra Jadeja (India). Home: 157 wickets at 21.06. Away: 63 at 32.44. -54per cent difference.

Ravi Ashwin (India). Home: 286 wickets at 21.89. Away: 123 at 31.18. -42per cent difference.

The numbers for these two great Indian spinners partly explain why India are so lethal at home, but struggled away until they produced their current batch of quality pace bowlers. Jadeja and Ashwin are both competent away, but lions at home.

Shane Bond (New Zealand). Home: 49 wickets at 19.79. Away: 38 at 25.05. -27per cent difference.

Bond, Shane Bond. Still very good away home, Bond was unstoppable on his own side of The Ditch.

Jason Holder (West Indies). Home: 74 wickets at 22.09. Away: 35 at 42.34. -92per cent difference.

The former West Indies captain is nearly twice the bowler at home compared to away. Kemar Roach is only marginally better at -72per cent and Shannon Gabriel at -50per cent.

Contrast the West Indies’ golden era pace bowlers: Marshall (-7.5per cent), Ambrose (+1.9per cent), Garner (+11.6per cent), Walsh (-5.6per cent), Holding (+0.4per cent), Roberts (+17per cent). It is a long, long way back for the West Indies.

At the other end of the spectrum the very worst bowlers to have frustrated their home crowds include:

– Indian pace bowler Ajit Agarkar played eight Tests at home for only ten wickets at an average of 63. He was marginally more effective away, with 48 wickets from 18 Tests at 44.06.. The real question is how this record justified a 26 Test career.
– At home, the never boring off-spinning all-rounder Greg Matthews was pretty much a batsman, with his bowling average standing at 60.1 with just 28 wickets from 20 Tests. Mo Matthews was much more respectable away from home, where his average fell to 38.15 and wickets per Test rose from 1.4 to 2.5.
– Ish Sodhi, the recent New Zealand leg spinner was an uber-Matthews. He was very effective away from home, averaging 33.64 and taking 3.6 wickets per test. These stats indicate a solid spinning option. Unfortunately at home Sodhi managed just one wicket every two Tests, averaging 93.8 from his ten attempts. How Sodhi received ten home Tests is a true mystery.
– I should also mention Bangladesh pace bowler Rubel Hossain who managed 15 home Tests while averaging 104.21 with the ball. He also received 12 away Tests where he ‘improved’ his average to 59.32 in those matches. A truly underwhelming 27 Test career.
– But the Grandaddy of them all was Australia’s left arm wrist spinner and specialist number 11 batsman Lindsay Kline. He played four Tests at home and averaged exactly 100 for his three wickets. But how did he go away? See below.

Another anomaly I found interesting was the case of Bert “Dainty” Ironmonger. After debuting at 45 years and 237 days old, Ironmonger bamboozled visitors to Australia for 14 Tests across four and a half years, taking 74 wickets at the stellar average of 17.97 and playing his last Test at a tick under 51 years old.

Ironmonger took ten wickets in a match twice and averaged 5.3 wickets per test, however he never played a Test away from home. No other top line bowler examined gained so many home Tests without getting a chance on tour.

The best away bowlers and those who struggled at home

There are some bowlers who are simply more suited to conditions away from their homeland. England’s first great bowler, George Lohmann, had a 38per cent better record away from home. Given his home average was a staggering 14.55, his away mark of just 8.96 will stand for all time. It is nearly 23 per cent better than the next best away average.

Three of Lohmann’s away Tests were against a truly weak South African side just entering Test cricket, on matting wickets that perfectly suited his style and he took 35 wickets at 5.8. However he also averaged 11.65 in Australia over six Tests.

Here is a small selection of players you really wanted to tour with (or at least keep them away from home):

Home average Away average Difference
Lindsay Kline (AUS) 3 wickets at 100 31 wickets at 15.35 85%
Mark Wood (ENG) 24 at 44.91 23 at 22.78 49%
HMCM Bandara (SL) O wickets for 161 runs 16 at 29.5 Infinity

Some are great at home, but just even better away:

Home average Away average Difference
Joel Garner (WI) 123 at 22.34 136 at 19.74 12%
Richard Hadlee (NZ) 201 at 22.96 230 at 21.72 5%
Bill O’Reilly (AUS) 59 at 24.62 85 at 21.18 14%

There are a number of players who never got to perform in front of their home crowds. Most of these have represented Pakistan in recent times, where unfortunately all Tests have been away or on neutral ground.

One other player of note is England’s Billy Bates who played in the 1880’s and received 15 Tests away to Australia without ever getting a crack at home. This is puzzling because a bowling average of just 16.42 for his 50 away wickets is nothing to sneeze at.

Bowlers who were class both home and away
There are of course bowlers who are top shelf no matter where they lay their heads. The cream of the crop with a home versus away performance differential of less than 20 per cent are.

Home record Away record
Malcolm Marshall (WI) 157 wickets at 20.06 219 wickets at 21.57
Alan Davidson (AUS) 84 at 21.04 102 at 20.1
Curtley Ambrose (WI) 203 at 21.19 202 at 20.78
Pat Cummins (AUS) 92 at 21.39 72 at 21.86
Alan Donald (SA) 177 at 21.64 153 at 22.96

There are plenty of other bowlers whose home-and-away records were very close to each other, including Australian greats like Ray Lindwall and Dennis Lillee.

The ‘Even Stevens’ bowlers where it appears to have made no difference at all whether they were home or away include Mr ‘Whispering Death’ Michael Holding, Bangladesh’s greatest player Shakib Al-Hasan, 1970’s Australian firebrand Lenny Pascoe and current Big 4 attack member Mitchell Starc.

Mitchell Starc of Australia appeals for a wicket

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

All of these bowlers have home-and-away averages that are within just half of one percent of each other. I was going to say pace doesn’t care about conditions, but Shakib shows that quality left arm spin can also cross borders.

Who are best and worst right out of their comfort zone?
Just for a bit of fun I also had a quick look at the records of players ‘outside their comfort zone’. I defined this as players from outside of Asia performing in Asia and vice versa.

Here’s what I found:

The champs of Asia are:
– The West Indies. There is no surprise here. Malcolm Marshall is possibly the most complete bowler in history and took 71 wickets in Asia at an average of 23.05. But then I scrolled through the list and incredibly found that all of Ambrose, Garner, Walsh, Holding and Roberts had bowling averages in Asia under 23.

Andy Roberts has the least impressive overall career record of this group on raw statistics (which is no disgrace), but he took an amazing 5.4 wickets per Test in Asia at 21.53.

Bleeding geniuses those West Indians. I’d suspect in that era the Asian batsmen had never experienced anything remotely like it. It must be in the water because current paceman Jason Holder averages 17.95 in Asia from seven Tests.

– All of these great bowlers are shaded by Australian left arm great Alan Davidson, who took 44 wickets in Asia at just 17.86. Among Australians He was nearly beaten by the underrated Garth McKenzie who took 42 wickets at 18.71 in conditions traditionally unsuited to pace bowling.

The chumps of Asia are:
– Chris Woakes of England has averaged 52.16 from five matches in the sub-continent. Woakes really needs swinging conditions and appears to struggle with a plan B, something Jimmy Anderson has successfully developed over the years.
– Stuart Clark had three Tests and took only three wickets at 79.33. Clark was not pacey enough to deal with lack of bounce.
– And then there is DK Lillee. Dennis Lillee managed to avoid the sub-continent as much as possible. Given he took six wickets across four Tests at 68.33, it’s no wonder. The Lillian Thomson partnership would have achieved little in Asia, with Thommo taking just three wickets at 98.33 from his touring efforts there.

Chris Woakes

Chris Woakes of England (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The best Asian players in ‘non-Asia’:
– As shown above Imran Khan was absolutely lethal at home, but more than 150 wickets at an average of 26.11 outside of Asia is not too shabby either.
– Muttiah Muralitharan is another whose quality crossed boundaries. His average away from Asia was 25.93.
– They are both shaded by legendary Pakistan left armer Wasim Akram, who took 198 wickets at 24.8 away from Asia.

And the worst Asian travellers:
– It’s hard to go past Murali Kartik from India. To be fair it’s a sample size of a single test, but 1 for 211 is not a great resume to justify future tours.
– Sunil Narine from the West Indies has managed a grand total of three wickets for 343 runs.
– Sri Lankan swing bowler, Nuwan Kulasekara took 44 home wickets at the healthy average of 27.59. But move him out of Asia and he managed an average of just 158.33 runs per wicket from five Tests.

Finally – here is an off-topic oddity noticed along the way. The best mullet in Australian cricket, Jason Gillespie is an identical home-and-away twin to current metronome Josh Hazlewood.

Their averages at home are 24.68 and 24.71 respectively. Their away averages are 26.97 and 27.04.

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