World Cup: Do India have the home advantage?
They haven’t been unbeatable at home, and IPL has almost levelled the field. But 2011 reminds us that India can overcome such odds
In the first nine editions between 1975 and 2007, no team won the World Cup at home. That changed on April 2, 2011 when MS Dhoni hit the winning six at the Wankhede Stadium. The next two ODI World Cups were also won by home teams, Australia in 2015 and England in 2019. It naturally boosts the possibility of India too winning the upcoming edition, though data doesn’t back it.
Unquantifiable factors like supporters, familiarity of venues and weather are some of the reasons why home advantage works in team sports. None of those worked for England in the first three editions of the World Cup, in a format they created, played more than the other teams and knew best how to exploit conditions in the English summer. Conversely, we won’t know what would have happened had West Indies hosted the 1983 World Cup.
A more perceptible factor these days is the home form of the hosts in the ODI cycle preceding a World Cup. And it has found some correlation as well. Like in 2019 when England won their first World Cup after topping that cycle with a home win-loss ratio of 3.55. In 2015, Australia won after ending a four-year cycle with a home win-loss ratio of 2.77 — joint best with India among the Test teams.
On the cusp of this World Cup, however, India only have the fourth best home win-loss ratio (3), after Pakistan (4), Australia (5.5) and New Zealand, who are yet to lose in 14 ODIs at home since the 2019 World Cup final.
It might still not mean anything because 2011 showed us how bilateral performances can’t always be the best indicator of Cup potential. In the 2007-11 ODI cycle, India’s win-loss ratio at home was 1.91 — below South Africa (2.66), Pakistan (2.28), Australia (2.23) and even Ireland (2.2).
India had romped to a 5-0 win against New Zealand in December 2010, just before the World Cup preparation began in earnest, but twice before that had they lost two seven-match rubbers 2-4 at home to Australia — in 2007 and 2009. That triggered concerns that India’s white-ball aspirations were more channeled towards T20. And the build-up was marred by selection controversy. India still won the World Cup.
A lot has changed since 2011 though, most significantly an IPL consolidation which coach Rahul Dravid feels has blunted home advantage. “There are some really good teams in this tournament, but the whole thing of home advantage, especially in the sub-continent, has reduced to a large extent over the last 10-12 years because people come and play here so much, especially in tournaments like IPL where people come for two months and have been getting used to these conditions,” he had said before the Asia Cup.
Then there is Ravichandran Ashwin who said not too long ago that India may start with a disadvantage as they have to travel the most. “There’s no point going loggerheads with conditions, because conditions cannot be challenged. You need to learn the conditions and adapt. India team has enough in the arsenal to be able to do that,” he had said on his YouTube channel earlier this year.
“However, on a given day if these conditions of dew, boundary sizes, things going here and there cannot be controlled, and that’s the only thing I believe India need to be wary of going into this World Cup... For India, in this regard, are going to be a bit short-changed because of the number of venues we play these games in.”
The ICC tries to take the pitch out of the equation, but ground dimensions dictate how teams approach batting, especially against spinners — India’s bowling bedrock at home — in the middle overs. Ashwin gave an example in his YouTube video. “Hyderabad can be a big venue but it isn’t because of the sponsorship LED boards,” he said. “It cuts across all other venues in India, especially the older ones which were not built keeping in mind the T20 era. So, a 70m boundary in Hyderabad goes down to 58m depending on the whims and fancies of that particular day.”
So, do India really have home advantage this time?
Depends. Numbers don’t indicate a distinct edge, but 2011 was no different. Like then, India have conceded a home series to Australia (2-1) this March apart from losing solitary games to West Indies, England and South Africa. India also didn’t field a full strength side till the Asia Cup. With injuries impeding preparation, certain players had to be managed, to the point that the entire selection process has looked directionless at times.
But the Asia Cup win again amplifies the vibe that India can be very hard to beat on their day. Not only does the first eleven check all the boxes, replacements too can adapt and perform at short notice — an ability only a tournament as rigorous as IPL can help perfect. A more realistic take would pin the semi-finals — as revisited in 2019 and 2015 — as India’s Achilles heel, regardless of the opposition or venue. If that is addressed, this could be a memorable home run.