Statistician’s journal : Is this the toughest era to win a test series overseas?


For long, Test cricket is said to be a format where the hosts bully the visitors more than the latter own the former. With statistical inputs since 1877, let us find how much truth the above statement does necessarily hold and how, if any, the trends have changed through the generations.

So without mincing more words into this piece, let us roughly divide the 140 years of the longest and oldest format of cricket into FOUR distinct phases as follows:

  1. Till 1949: It was a phase that cricket was in its cradle for most of the part before the game expanded beyond the Ashes rivals (read, England and Australia) to South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and India which started to bring some professionalism into the sports post the Second World War.
  2. 1950-1979: In these three decades, the number of games played went up in leaps and bounds and with the advent of ODI, World Cup and later Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, the cricketers became more and more proficient and money started to pump into the sector.
  3. 1980-1999: Perhaps the first 20 years of the modern era and a time when Test became a continuous 5-day affair sans any rest days in between.
  4. 2000 onwards: The present day scenario.

Let us just screen through the statistics of each of these four eras. Before beginning, let me put up an important issue. Throughout the initial periodic survey, we have considered results of only those tours where both the teams have played a minimum of 3 Tests for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the simple reason behind this is to leave aside any tour where any particular side was weaker and hence the home advantage or the away disadvantage bore little effects of significance on the outcome of the series. Remember that for long, New Zealand, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe – who have had their shares of pretty dismal Test records – used to (or still) play 2-match series which would be more about exposure to the format than anything else. Secondly, even between regular teams, a curtailed series of 2 or fewer Tests sometimes becomes an exhibition than serious affair – as one or both the teams rest their key players and test out their bench strengths which in a manner does not look potentially competitive in true sense as it could have been with their best sides on.

Having said that, let us start the stat game.

Phase 1 (1877-1949):

Matches in the series No. of series Series won by visitors Series won by hosts Drawn % won by visitors
5 40 20 19 1 50.00
4 7 1 3 3 14.28
3 21 5 16 0 23.81
Overall 68 26 38 4 38.24


So in 5-Test series, it was the visitors who got the better of their hosts. The reason behind this was mainly the home thrashings that a newly inducted South Africa received at the hands of England and Australia and some lop-sided Ashes result. Remember, cricket was in its infancy and bizarre things used to happen back then. Overall, the visitors prevailed over the hosts almost 2 in every 5 tours. And just look at the number of drawn series – just 4 of them out of 68. Simple reason: An era of timeless Tests with more series having odd number of matches. Only one series (New Zealand in England, 1949) ended with none of the games producing a result. There had been just a single whitewash by the tourists out of six overall – which England inflicted on South Africa in 1895-96. A total of 14 times the tourists won the series without tasting defeat on foreign soil. In contrast, 25 times they had to return home losing a series without winning a game.

Phase 2 (1950-1979):

Matches in the series No. of series Series won by visitors Series won by hosts Drawn % won by visitors
6 6 2 4 0 33.33
5 61 18 28 15 29.51
4 12 4 7 1 33.33
3 44 12 18 14 27.27
Overall 123 36 57 30 29.27


Mostly, the series had been either a 5 or a 3-match affair, perhaps to avoid drawn affairs (in case teams win alternate matches). But the cause was not much served as the era of stalemates had arrived with the abolishment of timeless Tests. Almost 1 in 4 series was a shared affair in contrast to 1 in 17 in the earlier phase. Matches were drawn and slowly the series too ended with either a game a piece or all draws. 11 such series ended 0-0 – 4 of those being 5-Test affair. Again too, there has been just a single whitewash by the tourists out of ten overall – which England inflicted on New Zealand in 1962-63. In 24 of those 36 series win, the tourists did it without losing a single game. However, they had to digest some 38 series loss without eking out a single victory.

Phase 3 (1980-1999):

Matches in the series No. of series Series won by visitors Series won by hosts Drawn % won by visitors
6 10 4 5 1 40.00
5 28 11 16 1 39.29
4 12 3 6 3 25.00
3 89 18 50 21 20.22
Overall 139 36 77 26 25.90


With the advent of ODIs, mostly Test series had become a 3-game event. Further inspection points out that with the Test cricket comprising of just a handful of nations (most of them evenly balanced at that point), the home-away factor became more significant than previously. Just 1 in 4 series have gone to the visitors. However, this phase recorded the only 5-0 walloping ever by a visiting side as the Caribbean side did the unimaginable in the English tour of 1984. However, there was no more clean-sweep by another touring side in this period while the hosts inflicting the same another 9 times. The drawn affair too has receded to about 2 in 11 series. 8 series ended in 0-0 stalemates. In 21 out of those 36 series wins, the visitors returned home undefeated. 57 off those 77 times the hosts had won; they did avoid their guests to register even a single victory in the series.

Phase 4 (2000 onwards):

Matches in the series No. of series Series won by visitors Series won by hosts Drawn % won by visitors
5 17 4 12 1 23.53
4 25 9 12 4 36.00
3 93 27 51 15 29.03
Overall 135 40 75 20 29.63


The 6-match series has become passé. With fewer series being played with 4 or 5 games, a 3-Test series has become the standard. With advent of T20Is, the number of 2-Test series has also increased during this period and which we have kept out of the equation for the time-being. Coming to the comparable parameters, the visiting sides have come victorious in as many as 3 in 10 occasions in a tour. There have been three away whitewashes – all by the mighty Australians – one each in and against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa. The home factor perhaps has aggravated in modern times as the hosts have inflicted as many as 21 whitewashes to their guests in this period – 7 of them coming in a series of 4 Tests or more. The drawn affair too has declined. Only 3 series recorded 0-0 impasses. 20 times a touring side has won a series away without losing a game. 59 times out of a possible 75 a touring side has subjugated without winning a game.

In all, let me simplify the stats even more cutting across all periods.

Matches in the series No. of series Series won by visitors Series won by hosts Drawn % won by visitors
6 16 6 9 1 37.50
5 146 53 75 18 36.30
4 56 17 28 11 30.36
3 247 62 135 50 25.10
Total for series with min. 3 matches 465 138 247 80 29.68
2 166 61 70 35 36.75
1 56 18 24 14 32.14
Grand Total 687 217 341 129 31.59


An interesting point to notice as we descend from 6 to 3, we see the dip in the percentage of series won by tourists. As we have already seen how the bulk of 3-Test series have been extensively played in the past three decades, we can safely say that the life has become harder for the tourists to have a crack – considering lack of time to practice or even acclimatize with the conditions. As a result, the hosts generally win the first game and the tourists find it hard to win the remaining two back-to-back for a mother of all-comebacks!

To make the format survive the onslaught of the shorter ones, 4-Test affairs have also been played more regularly in the same period than any time earlier. But there too, the percentage isn’t that convincing for the visitors – which definitely strengthens our point that Test between the major nations relies heavily on home conditions and are more won by the hosts than their guests.

Coming to those 2-Test series or the one-off Tests, the figures look very balancing and indeed should look so as we guessed earlier and hence did away with them in the first place which would otherwise made our analysis look adulterated. The reason that away wins trail home wins so closely is because of the fact that Test minnows generally host superior teams while the latter are not very keen to host weaker teams owing to a bevy of reasons mostly financial. As a result, a stronger side generally wins such one-sided series more as tourists than as hosts – thus providing for the balancing act. For example, excluding its affairs with Zimbabwe, Bangladesh has lost some 19 series as hosts while just 12 as tourists. In other words, stronger sides have beaten Bangladesh more time as visitors than as hosts.

Coming to individual matches, here is the grand stat.

Period Total matches Matches won by visitors Matches won by hosts Drawn Tied % won by visitors
1877-1949 316 97 122 97 0 30.40
1950-79 548 133 191 223 1 24.27
1980-99 609 135 229 244 1 22.17
Post 2000 721 207 339 175 0 28.71
Overall 2194 572 881 739 2 26.07


So fair enough, that about just 1 in every 4 Tests is won by a visiting side – which shows how tough it is for a side to win a match away, let alone series. With teams hardly getting promoted to playing Tests, the field has slowly become quite competitive for most of those 10 nations that are licensed to participate in it. With England, with a heritage of playing Test for 140 years, failing to win a series at a 16-year old Test playing Bangladesh, it is perhaps indications a galore that it is more difficult for a visiting side to return home with flying colours than it was as such ever.

Photo by Rikx