Cricket is inarguably the most condition-specific sport. No other sport is more influenced by factors like weather, altitude of the stadium, direction of the wind as much as cricket. And when you stretch a cricketing contest to five days, several other parameters, most primary one being the deterioration of the pitch come into effect. Therefore, there is a vast number of matches where the playing conditions have decided the outcome of a match. Henceforth, an away series victory is rare and is perceived as a big achievement for the touring party.
But of late, the trend has seen a slight shift with sides starting to win overseas. Over the last two years, India defeated Australia in Australia, Australia retained the Ashes in England, England whitewashed Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka won 2-0 in South Africa who had won 1-0 in New Zealand last year and the same New Zealand side went on to win a series against Pakistan in UAE. Not to forget, Afghanistan recently beat Bangladesh in the one-off Test in Chattogram.
Winning at home is not a cakewalk anymore. Sri Lanka, one of the tougher countries to beat on their home turf lost 50 percent of their home Tests since 2015. England, an elite Test nation, has suffered a defeat in almost every third Test at home in the same time period. The only side that has maintained their home dominance is the Virat-Kohli led Indian team.
South Africa’s previous Test series in India, in 2015, was Kohli’s first assignment as captain in a home series. Since then, India has lost only one Test at home - versus Australia in Pune in 2017. Their victory percentage at home - 73.9 percent - is the best amongst all sides playing at home since 2015. For India, in fact, this is their best win percentage at home in a five-year span in the 21st century.
This supremacy has been prompted by Kohli’s positive approach as a captain. He may have been criticized for some for some of his tactics on the field but he must be applauded for his result-inducing approach. Kohli has opted for a five-bowler attack in 12 out of the 21 Tests he has played at home since 2015. Bowlers win games and as a result, India has a bowling average of 24 runs per wicket at home in the considered time period, their best in a five-year span in the 21st century. Moreover, it is second only to South Africa among all sides at home.
The astonishing bowling average has been catapulted by some extraordinary performances by Indian spinners - mainly, the two Ravis hunting in tandem, Ashwin and Jadeja. The Indian spinners have averaged only 22.2 runs per wicket at home, their own best in a five-year span since 2015 and the best amongst all sides in the current five-year cycle.
Recall the last time India lost a series in India. It was seven years back in 2012, when a spirited England side stunned India 2-1. The England spinners - Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar - bowled at an average of 25.7 runs per wicket outbowling their Indian counterparts - Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha whose bowling average read 39.8 runs per wicket.
To beat India in India, you need to conquer them at their own game - the spin department. Currently, India has the best spinners in the business.
With the bat, the top seven Indian batsmen have averaged 46.9 runs per wicket in India, second only to the Australian batsmen in Australia - 52.6. Considering the benign nature of the modern-day Australian pitches, the figure managed by the Indian batsmen at home is an appreciable effort. Also, the figure is largely driven by Virat Kohli’s form who has led from the front.
The Indian team has featured in six Test series at home under Kohli, i.e, since 2015. In five of those series, the man-of-the-series award went to either Ashwin (twice), Jadeja (once) or Kohli (twice). In addition, Kohli was the man-of-the-match in India’s win in the only Test against Bangladesh. This once again, speaks for the influence of spinners and Virat Kohli in India’s dominant home run.
Kohli’s reign as a Test captain at home began with South Africa’s tour of India in 2015. Between the two series - the one in 2015 and the upcoming one starting on October 2, 2019, the Virat-Kohli led team has defeated every Test playing nation on their home turf (except Pakistan and Ireland who have not played here in the given time frame).
Overall, India has now won 10 consecutive Test series at home. Another series victory will take them beyond Australia’s feat of 10 series victories in a row, a fitting record given the calibre of this side.
Given the current circumstances of their upcoming opponent, South Africa, who will be playing with the ghastly memories of their previous Test series in India (lost 3-0) and without their star players, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla, Kohli’s team is expected to continue their streak.