Do sub-continental batsmen struggle in England?

August 21, 2023 | By

Although the first ever cricket match officially recognized as a Test Match was played at Melbourne Cricket Ground in March 1877, it is England which is considered as the birthplace of the game of cricket. Ever since Australia visited England in September 1880 to play the first ever Test on an English ground, every visiting team to England always considers winning and scoring runs in England as the pinnacle of their cricketing achievements.

A typical cricket season in England lasts for approximately five months from mid-April to the first week of September. It is very seldom that a Test match would start early to mid-May as that is considered the wettest period in England.

In fact, the first half of an English summer is usually rainier that the latter part where ball is very likely to seam and swing in humid air and under overcast conditions. These rainy conditions also make pitches full of moisture, which helps swing bowlers and makes batting difficult, especially for those who do not have much exposure batting under such demanding conditions.

During the second half of the summer when the sun is out more often, pitches tend to dry faster and make scoring runs relatively easier. This is the reason most visiting teams prefer to play Test matches in the latter half of summer when conditions are relatively less humid and batting conditions are favorable for visiting batsmen.

This is especially applicable to batsmen from the Indian subcontinent, who very often struggle scoring runs freely under typical English conditions. This subsequently results their batting averages in England lagging far behind their overall career batting averages. Even some top names from the subcontinent appear to be stumbling in England as their batting statistics show their weakness against moving balls.

In this analysis we shall examine batsmen from Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh) and see how they perform while batting in Test matches in England. Before going into individual batting performance, let us see how these sub-continental teams have performed in England with respect to overall results.

Sub-continental teams standing in England
Wins in England by Sub-Continent Teams

Note: Overall numbers include two tests for Pakistan played in England against Australia in 2010 and one test for India played against New Zealand in WTC final in England during June 2021. All figures updated up to and including 4th Test between India and England ended on 6th September 2021.

Clearly, Pakistan has the best record in England amongst all the sub-continental teams. Pakistan has more wins in England compared to all other sub-continental teams combined. In fact, out of all test playing countries, Pakistan is only team that defeated England on their maiden tour when they drew England 1-1 on their 1954 tour.

On the other hand, India took nearly 40 years to register their first win in England. Sri Lanka played their first test in England in 1984 and approximately 14 years later achieved their first win on English soil. Bangladesh lost all four Tests in England to-date – three by comprehensive innings margins.

Next, we look at individual batting performance of subcontinent batsmen in England. Minimum 500 runs in Test matches in England is set as the qualification criteria. 32 batsmen fulfill this criteria that includes 18 from India, 12 from Pakistan and 2 from Sri Lanka.

Sub-continental batsmen in England:

(Qualification: min 500 runs; figures updated up and including 4th Test between England and India ended on 6th Sep 2021)

Rahul Dravid stands above everyone, reflecting his class and dominance against quality bowling, scoring 1376 runs at an impressive average of nearly 69 with six centuries and four half-centuries in just 13 Test matches.

Next are Salim Malik and Sourav Ganguly scoring at an average of over 65 per innings with three centuries and five 50s. There are 5 other batsmen averaging over 50 in England that include Zaheer Abbas, Mohammad Yousuf, Sachin Tendulkar, Younis Khan and Mohsin Khan. Zaheer is the only batsman from subcontinent with two double hundreds in England – 270 at Edgbaston in 1971 and 240 at the Oval in 1974. It is interesting to note that batting averages in England of these top batsmen is far better than their overall career batting average – and for some of them by a significant margin.

Surprisingly, at the other end of spectrum we find Ajinkya Rahane and Hanif Mohammad with a dismal batting average of under 27 in England. If Hanif’s famous undefeated innings of 187 played at the Lord’s in 1967 is excluded, his batting average will come crashing down to a mediocre 18.13.

The charts below reflect a very interesting picture when batting averages of all those batsmen (included in the table above) are compared with their career batting average to see how they performed in England with respect to their overall batting performance. For example, Hanif Mohammad has a career batting average of 43.98, but his batting average in Test matches played in England is only 26.64 – which gives a negative variance of 17.34.

In other words, a negative variance indicates he performed poorly in England compared to his overall performance. Sourav Ganguly has career batting average of 42.17, but his performance has shown tremendous improvement while batting in England where he averages 65.36, which gives a positive variance of 23.19 – the best amongst all sub-continental batsmen!

Next, we scrutinize only the current players from sub-continental teams for Test matches played in England and see if these current players also struggle scoring runs in England. Here we lower the qualification bar to minimum 250 runs. This criterion brings 18 current players to the list that includes 10 from India and 4 each from Pakistan and Sri Lanka:

Astonishingly, none of the current Indian batsmen seem comfortable playing in seaming English conditions, especially their batting backbone trio comprising of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane as all these have significantly lower batting averages in England compared to their career batting average – a clear indication they certainly find it hard to score runs in England in the same way as they score elsewhere.

Babar Azam has a strikingly higher batting average (65.75) in England compared to his career average (42.52), but it is perhaps too early to judge his skills in English conditions because he has played just four Tests in England so far. Apart from Baber, all those with marginally better averages in England are Sri Lankans, which is not a surprise considering playing conditions in England and Sri Lanka are somewhat similar because the cricket season in Sri Lanka coincides with the monsoon season giving good resemblance to a typical English playing conditions.

The question is: why do sub-continental batsmen – especially all the current players – find scoring runs in England so difficult? There could be a combination of factors that are responsible for this dismal situation. One major contributing factor is not getting fully acclimatized with local conditions before going into Test series. These days, visiting teams hardly play any first class matches prior to the start of Test series.

After the loss in the WTC final in Southampton, the Indian skipper pointed out that his team lacked match practice and this cost them the final of WTC. Even the series against England starting early August did not include first-class games that the Indian skipper wanted so that the team could adequately prepare themselves for the Test series, but his request was denied by the board. These days, cricket boards try to keep the length of any tour limited to only international matches due to commercial reasons.

First class matches do not bring revenue and are therefore never on cricket boards’ agenda to include on the tour. First class games on the tour are being replaced by intra-squad games. Both Pakistan and India have intra-squad games instead of any first-class games for the 2021 tour of England. This new trend of scrapping first class games creates space for additional T20Is or ODIs, bringing large chunks of revenue to the cricket boards within a short span of time.

However, it is actually first class cricket that builds batsmen for Test matches, where one needs patience, dedication, temperament, skill, technique and a lot more. It is not like limited overs games where batsmen hit a quickfire 50 to get the job done.

If we want to preserve traditional Test cricket, the focus must stay on first class cricket, as it serves as a nursery preparing world class batsman for the longer format of the game.

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