Southampton is a relatively new Test venue in England, having hosted its first match only in 2011. The Rose Bowl has hosted only six Tests so far with most matches in England held in more traditional cricketing venues up north.
However, its importance has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as it also has a four-star hotel attached to the stadium where players can stay without having to leave the complex.
Having played host to just three Tests from 2011 to 2019, it hosted just as many Tests in 2020 alone, and will now be the venue for the World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand in June.
Southampton has a reputation for being among the more batting-friendly venues in England. It is on the southern coast of the country and the weather can be balmy, although it being England after all, things can change quickly.
Among English Test venues that have hosted a minimum of five Tests, Southampton has the highest average runs per wicket (33.58) and the second-highest runs-per-over (3.13).
Depending on the weather, it can also aid turn as Moeen Ali’s off-spin demonstrated during England’s wins over India at the venue in 2014 and 2018. Overall, pacers average 32.45, while spinners aren’t too far behind at 34.58.
The sample size for Test matches is small although there have been 123 first-class games played in Southampton. When taking first-class games into consideration, the contrast between the averages for pacers and spinners widens to 30.85 and 35.74.
Of the 123 first-class matches, 67 have been drawn and 56 have had a result. That said, it’s worth mentioning that many English county fixtures involve teams forfeiting innings to try and get a result.
Win toss and bat first?
Sides batting first hold a clear advantage with 35 wins as compared to 21 victories by sides batting second. However, the toss does not seem to be the clincher, with 27 teams going on to win the match after winning the toss, while teams have won the toss but still gone to lose on 22 occasions.
Only five times have sides chosen to field first and won games, as compared to 22 matches won by teams opting to bat first. England won the toss both times against India in 2014 and 2018 before going on to emerge victorious.
Chasing numbers are again affected by innings forfeitures in between. For the record, 18 teams have chased successfully in Southampton, although the target was below 100 on six of those occasions. There have been six successful chases of 200 or above, two of them involving forfeitures.
The highest successful first-class chase that did not involve any forfeiture was 326 by Hampshire against Northamptonshire in 2012. They lost only two wickets and boasted a top three of experienced internationals like Neil McKenzie, Jimmy Adams and Simon Katich.
On 23 occasions, the side chasing has lost and India fell short by 60 runs in their pursuit of 245 in 2018.
Lastly, the timing of the WTC final, somewhat early in the English season in June, may also play a role. If history is anything to go by, lots of rain will hardly come as a surprise. The only Test ever played at Southampton in June 2011 between England and Sri Lanka barely had three full days of play. Furthermore, pitches will be fresher in June compared to the last time India played at Southampton in August-September 2018.