You go around the world and ask which the toughest country to play in is? If it's the 80s or 90s, the answer would almost inevitably be the Windies. Australia and England would be next additions, when asked at the turn of the century and South Africa would be another addition midway through the first decade. But when considered the last ten years, India would definitely be among the toughest destinations, if not the only toughest. Well, numbers speak for themselves. And one of those grabbed headlines moments after India defeated South Africa by an innings and 137 runs in Pune last week. It was India's 11 consecutive home series win -- the most by a country -- surpassing the legendary Australian teams led by Steve Waugh and later Ricky Ponting.
Since February 2013, before greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag bid adieu to the gentleman's game, India's indomitable campaign on home soil had begun when they defeated Australia 4-0 (4). 10 series, 27 Tests, a change in captaincy, and a whole lot of fresh faces later India have remained unbeaten through all contests, losing only game. That’s how dominant India have been at home.
To talk in numbers, India have the best win-loss ratio at home since Virat Kohli’s captaincy, winning 19 matches under him out of the total 25 while losing only one (which came against Australia in 2017). In fact, India’s domineering run under Kohli also includes a record-breaking run of 19 consecutive Test victories, albeit the run started under MS Dhoni’s captaincy. The next best team is New Zealand who managed 12 wins in 19 matches at their own backyard while losing three.
But how dominant?
Since February 2015, visiting teams have averaged 23.72 in India, leaving South Africa (21.37) the worst place for away teams. The score, on an average, 27.14 runs per wicket in the first innings, which drops to as low as 19.76 in the second innings.
Meanwhile, India average 43.59 overall on home turf, the second-best by any side at home after Australia’s 43.72. While the Indian batters manage 48.69 runs per wicket in the first innings at home (best for any team), they score at an average of 33.25 in the second (third best).
To give a context for the aforementioned numbers, out of the total 36 scenarios (since February 2015) around the world where team has scored 350 or more in the first innings, 27 have resulted in victories. India themselves have been part of six such wins. However, out of the five defeats globally, India have the reason for it in two different matches while drawing two others.
It is a simple concept in India – you win the toss and bat first. Nine of the total 20 such instances since February 2015 have ended in a winning cause while five were draws. India have batted nine times during the time period and won eight matches while one ended in a draw. And in eight instances, they were made to chase. India are still unbeaten. In fact, in four of those eight cases, oppositions have scored more than 350 in the first innings – 400 (England, 2016), 477 (England, 2016), 537 (England, 2016), 451 (Australia, 2017) – the first two ended in defeats while the last two ended in draws.
Australia have been only team to give a tough fight to India at home in terms of batting since Kohli’s captaincy. Twice had they taken a first-innings lead against India – in Bengaluru and in Pune, 2017 – while the first ended in a defeat after taking an 87-run lead, the second ended in a winning cause after Australia set a target of 440 on a rank turner (the only home game that India lost under Kohli).
"It's a challenging tour. You get stretched as a person, you get stretched as a cricketer, I think you get to know yourself quite a lot as a person when you come to the smaller places where the hotels are maybe not as good, and you get challenged on the field. It's always a good learning curve coming to India," Dean Elgar said on Thursday ahead of South Africa's third Test against India in Ranchi.
India's bowling at home have been equally effective as their batting. The unit have recorded an average of 24.25 (second-best after South Africa's 22.38) and a strike rate of 53.4 (third after South Africa and England).
However, unlike other home-team bowlers, India's unit have had to work hard for their wickets. Out of the total 93 times around the world that a team has been folded for less than 150 since February 2015, 11 of those happened in India. And two of those happened in the first innings - India dismissed for 105 against Australia in Pune and Afghanistan dismissed for 109 in historic one-off against India in Bengaluru. Apart from that Afghanistan Test, India have managed to fold an opposition at home only once for a score of less than 200 in the first innings - against West Indies in 2018 in Rajkot. Not to forget, seven times away teams have scored more than 350 runs in India.
Hence, to win a Test in India, a team has to have that ability to take all 20 wickets, a theory that is more prevalent when teams travel to Australia or England. Australia had managed to compete in 2017 because they had a world-class attack. But the kind of fortress that Kohli’s India have built at home, it would require something of truly great determination to overcome the herculean task.