Saturday, 1 August 2015

Home and Away with James Anderson (and 15 other fast bowlers)

The mood of the English cricketing public has lurched once more from despondent to cheerful, as England continued their extended experiment in demonstrating why 'momentum' is nonsense with victory in the third test. It was a test with lots of great moments and sub-plots- Ian Bell's success after being moved up to three, Adam Voges' magic jumper and Steve Finn's heartening resurgence to name but a few. England's victory was set up, however, by James Anderson's first day efforts- taking 6-47 as Australia staggered their way to 136 all out. Worryingly for England, we're quite likely not to see Anderson for the rest of the Ashes as he went off in the second innings with a side injury.

Anderson's critics have always maintained that he is a home track bully, that he only produces his best in favourable home conditions- and that therefore his reputation as one of his generation's leading bowlers is undeserved. Anderson's 6-47 on a seaming pitch at Edgbaston can hardly dispel that impression.

Although it's certainly unfair to suggest that he never produces away from home it is probably fair enough to say his home record is much more impressive than his away one.  As far his average goes, he takes his wickets at 26.80 at home and 34.04 away.

What I want to do in this post is put that difference in some context. Yes, Jimmy Anderson takes his wickets more cheaply at home- but is he extraordinary in that regard or is he just an example of a very common phenomenon? Is his reputation more dependent on home performances than that of his peers in the fast bowling fraternity?

The graph above shows the difference between the home and away bowling averages for the world's 16 leading fast bowlers, as defined by the current ICC rankings. I should note that in the case of Pakistan's Junaid Khan I have counted his games in the UAE as being at home, since that's where Pakistan have played their 'home' games during his career.

Almost all of these 16 pace merchants have better averages at home than away- and of course it's no surprise that bowlers prefer conditions they're familiar with, where they learned their trade and gained their reputation. The three buckers of this trend are Josh Hazlewood, Tim Southee and Junaid Khan. As discussed above, Junaid Khan has never played a 'true' home test, and for that reason I was in two minds about including him. Josh Hazlewood has played only 8 tests (3 at home, 5 away) and so his startling stats should probably be taken with a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lime and a shot of tequila.

James Anderson, meanwhile, sits in the midst of a cluster of bowlers who average between 5 and 8 runs higher away than at home. The gap between his home and away performances is thus a little on the high side but by no means extraordinary amongst his fast bowling peers. 

You can say Jimmy is a home track bully if you want, but in that case test cricket's home track playground is full of them.  Bowlers who consistently excel to the same high level in all countries and conditions are rare beasts indeed.


  1. I enjoyed your posts, especially the one about momentum. I suspect this may have more effect within a test match than between test matches. I would guess that short-term confidence both decays and recovers over a characteristic timescale that is long compared to the timescale of an innings but short compared to the time between test matches. I think you explore this a bit when you look at the correlation between batting well and bowling well for Mitchell Johnson.

    Also, any chance of a post about the correlation between the number of England fans performing rain dances and rain stopping play, including whether the result is affected in the desired way? You could also include the intensity with which the rain dances are performed, which could be measured, for example, by duration, effort spent on costume, number of sacrificial victims etc.

  2. Thanks very much for the comment! You may well be right about the momentum within matches vs momentum between matches thing. I'd like to investigate that, and maybe will in a future post but it might be quite hard to disentangle from other effects.

    I believe the key with rain dances is to put your umbrella up in anticipation of the rain, which if you're at the ground can have the additional effect of confusing the umpires...

  3. ps. I've heard it said that England play at "another level" when Ravi Bopara is included in the team. Do you know if the data backs this up?