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India in England – past records show the value of acclimatisation

Cheteshwar Pujara © Getty Images
Cheteshwar Pujara had said that he was glad for the practice matches before the series began © Getty Images

Acclimatisation to the conditions is absolutely vital while approaching a series in England and numbers bear it out very prominently. Arunabha Sengupta looks at how touring Indian teams have fared in the past as the series have progressed from Test to Test.

As India gear up for another tour of England, fans and followers of the team are busy voicing their concerns about the lack of adequate preparation. And the numbers tell us that their worries are very pertinent indeed.

The conditions in Old Blighty are, after all, very, very different. Adjusting the technique to deal with the moving ball, getting used to the weather, dampness, the numb fingers due to the cold, the dew — all this obviously take a while. The modern cricket calendar, cluttered with Twenty20 leagues, cannot really allow for the month-long warm up matches against the county sides as in the good old days, but just two fixtures before the Test matches is perhaps cutting it a bit too fine.

Fresh in memory is the similar Indian Premier League (IPL)-rich preparation of 2011 that resulted in a 4-0 whitewash. Yes, collective loss of form, an aging middle-order, injury laden openers and the strike bowler hobbling off after a couple of sessions into the series – all these played their respective roles in the debacle. However, the value of acclimatisation to the conditions cannot really be undermined. If we look at the figures of the past tours this is borne out by the extremely revealing numbers.

The overall record of India on English tours is rather dismal. The 52 Tests have resulted in 27 defeats as opposed to just five wins. The batsmen have scored at 27.70 runs per wicket while the bowlers have conceded 42.74.

If we look at the figures more closely, we unearth some interesting tales. The Indian batting fares the poorest in the first Test matches, as most of the fans can very well gauge. Irrespective of the amount of tour matches prior to the first Test, Indian teams have almost always managed to lose the opening Test of the series. Of the 16 they have lost 13. Their only win came in 1986, while the teams of 1971 and 2007 managed draws – the latter with some divine intervention.

It does seem that in the first Test, while the batsmen struggle, the bowlers also have a hard time getting used to the conditions. The batsmen score at a poor 24.86 while the bowlers give away 42.50 per wicket.

What happens after this is fascinating. The batsmen keep improving as more and more Tests are played in the series. In the second Test, they average 28.58 per wicket, it goes up to 30.51 in the third. There have been fewer fourth Tests, but the batting has been steady with a marginal improvement from the third Test.

However, this does not necessarily translate to better outcomes with the progression of the series. Obviously the team fares a lot better than in the first Tests, but the bowlers seem to run out of steam after the second. By the fourth Test match, they are a pitiable lot. Which can perhaps be linked to the frontline bowlers breaking down with backup bowlers forced into the fray.

Hence, while the bowling average improves to an extent in the second Tests, it takes a beating in the third and becomes abysmal by the fourth.Which explains why India has had the best results in the second Tests of the series – marginally better than the third, while the fourth Tests have been quite disappointing.

India in England

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Bat Ave

Bowl Ave

1st Test

16

1

2

13

24.86

42.50

2nd Test

15

2

8

5

28.58

39.43

3rd Test

15

2

7

6

30.51

43.88

4th Test

5

0

3

2

30.82

51.42

5th Test

1

0

0

1

Small sample

Small Sample

Total

52

5

20

27

27.70

42.74

There has been just one fifth Test played in the contests between the two sides in England – and that was in 1959 and India comfortably lost the match. However, that one Test is too small a sample for any meaningful analysis.

The trend is almost the same if we consider the recent history of the last 30 years. The results have been better overall.The batting has improved greatly and the win-loss ratio is far more respectable. However, here again, the batting and bowling struggle in the first Tests, and but for the rain in 2007 they would have lost all these encounters. The batting again continues to improve as the series goes on but bowling takes a heavy beating from the third Test onwards.

Since 1986, India has held the upper hand in the second Tests, and one can perhaps back them to produce their best performance at Lord’s this time around. However, Nottingham will have history stacked up against them, with cause to worry as the tour proceeds to Manchester.

India in England 1986 onwards

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Bat Ave

Bowl Ave

1st Test

6

1

1

4

28.38

43.82

2nd Test

6

2

3

1

36.02

35.2

3rd Test

6

1

4

1

43.65

46.89

4th Test

2

0

1

1

Small sample

Small sample

5th Test

-

-

-

-

-

-

Total

20

4

9

7

35.44

43.25

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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