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The home disadvantage

By Pritam Sengupta
February 08, 2003 17:03 IST
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Everybody and his uncle and his dog are talking about the home advantage South Africa have over the next 44 days in this World Cup. But the truth -- simple, grim, bald, naked, horrible truth -- is that no host country has yet won the tournament on its own soil.

Forget home advantage; you could call it the home disadvantage.

England had four shots at it in 1975, 1979, 1983, and 1999 and did not hit bull's-eye once. India and Pakistan flunked the test in 1987. Australia and New Zealand failed in 1992. And who is to say if Sri Lanka would have won in 1996 had the finals been held in Colombo, not Lahore?

That sets up a nice little puzzle: ‘kem cho' or, to be more precise, ‘kem no-show'? What is the cause of the World Cup's host-phobia?

More to the point, does the current conventional wisdom that South Africa are co-favourites in this World Cup along with Australia really make sense against the weight of the evidence against host nations? We don't have an answer; but, tongue firmly in slips, we have a few guesses.

9. Crowd pressure: The old firm of Tony, Ravi & Co will wax eloquent on the "tremendous atmosphere" and the crowd being behind you. But, believe us, it cuts both ways. There's nothing like being cheered on in your language -- but the pressure of performing in front of people who only want to see one team win can be enormous and without the insulation of distance, disastrous.

8. Home food: Armies can't fight on gurgling tummies, is an old jungle saying. But they cannot also go into battle with over-full ones. A Shane Warne pining for his baked beans is better than a Anil Kumble getting to feast on ‘bisi bele bath' everywhere the team goes. Nothing fails like excess, and a little uncertainty about when (and where) the next home meal will come from won't hurt.

7. Familiarity breeds contempt: OK, you know how the "two-paced" wickets will behave. You know what time the breeze will blow in from the tiny gap in the stands. And you know you would have never chased under lights. But does too much knowledge result in too much complacence? Do strategies get too rigid, too impractical and ultimately futile when surprised by, say, a spinner opening the attack on a seamer's paradise?

6. Wives, mothers and girlfriends: A little sexist? Sure. But does it make a difficult job even harder when your friends and family are angling for ‘passes' and howling wildly in the stands to the delight of the TV cameras, while the visitors are happily focused on the mission, anxious to get the job done, and get back home? (If it doesn't, why do you think BCCI barred wives from joining their hubbies?)

5. Pressing problems: At home, at every ground and outside every hotel, an army of newspaper, magazine, television and internet reporters are scrutinizing your every misstep to transmit it to the rest of the world. In foreign climes, dare we say, that number gets vastly reduced, helping you to at once relax and focus. All play and no fun makes Jacques a dull boy.

4. The ‘ghaas' is greener on the other side: ‘You win at home and some pseudo-secular English idiot will call us ‘Tigers at home'. You win at home and some TV twerp will say, ‘Apna gulli mein kutta bhi sher hota hai'. Who wants all this ‘jhanjhat', bhai? Ghar ki murghi dal barabar.' The "grass" is always greener on the other side.

3. Paisa, paisa, paisa: Governments anxious to shine in reflected glory announce gigantic sums if the Cup is brought home. Sponsors promise the moon to brand ambassadors who smash rivals in such a manner as to cease diplomatic relations. But how much motivation can money be for the top stars who already have tons of it? Cause? Country? What's that?

2. My car: "We need 18 runs off the last three balls. The bowling was really mediocre, you know, and I could I have hit all three balls out of the ground. Three sixes would have done the trick. But my Porsche and my wife's Lexus and my mother's Merc were parked in the lot outside." Moral: arriving in an alien country by the team bus as a "unit" helps.

1. 'Atithi devo bhava': The guest is god. May he take home fond memories of our friendly country---and may he reciprocate our kind gesture when we reach his shores four years from now.

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Pritam Sengupta