World Cup Cricket - if you win the toss do you win the match?

Straying off topic wildy - to some people cricket is a WOMBAT and to cricket purists one-day cricket is a WOMBAT - to others of us, it’s endlessly fascinating. There is a World Cup on and the New Zealand team is doing fine having just got into the semi-finals.

A cricket match begins with a toss of a coin and one of the two captains makes a call and if he calls right can choose to bat or to field, conversely if he calls wrong the choice goes to the other captain. The principle is that it’s a 50/50 call - hence fair and ideally the choice of batting or fielding shouldn’t affect the result too much (but could provide some advantage) or else the game can pretty much be decided by who wins the toss.

How much advantage is it really to win the toss? Looking that the whole tournament so far:

  • There have been 40 matches - of those, the side winning the toss has won 18 times.
  • Of the 16 Super Eight matches, 9 have been won by the side winning the toss.

On the face of it, the toss has no bearing on ultimate result - you couldn’t accurately predict the winner of a match simply knowing who won the toss.

Look a bit further though and it is quite clear that the winner of the toss has a strong preference for fielding over batting.

  • Of 40 tosses, the toss winner has elected to field 31 times (77.5%).
  • In the Super Eight this has lead to 11 wins from 16 games for the team that bats second (69%).

What about the few who chose to bat first? There were 9 of these and of them there were 3 wins. The 3 wins were Sri Lanka vs Bermuda, Australia vs The Netherlands and New Zealand vs Ireland - all matches in which the winning team was one of the ten teams that hold current One-Day international status and the losers were so-called “associates”. In other words, you’d expect the winners to win regardless of batting first or second.

Of the other 6, 2 were “associates” who chose to bat first and lost - as expected. So, of our 9 matches in which the winner of the toss chose to bat first, we can discount 5 of the 9 because they were uneven contests with an expected winner regardless.

Of the remaining four matches, the decisions to bat first were puzzling.

  • India vs Bangladesh - what were the Indians thinking? The rest is history.
  • Sri Lanka vs South Africa - a very close match in the end. Given that Sri Lanka has beaten NZ and NZ beaten South Africa you’d expect Sri Lanka to have beaten South Africa.
  • England vs Australia - did England know they were going to lose and so tried to minimise the net run rate early in the piece? Let’s see if they sneak into the semi-finals on net run rate - it’s better than South Africa’s.
  • New Zealand vs Sri Lanka - look at the record - NZ has won the toss 4 times prior to this match and chosen to field 3 times and bat once (against Ireland where they wanted the practice). Why would Fleming/Bracewell (captain/coach) break the pattern? They would know the odds were against a win if they bat first and they have all the statistics. My theory: if they won no problem, but if they lost they wanted to make sure that they minimised the net run rate. The worst case scenario was to lose big (Sri Lanka get off to a flyer) and drop down the net run rate figures on the points table, be on equal points with another team(s) and miss out on net run rate. The better option was to bat first and play for containment, delay the Powerplays and ensure that Sri Lanka had to use as many overs as possible. Did it work? Kind of - the net run rate was -0.5351 for the match against -2.26 when the Windies lost chasing Sri Lanka’s 303.

Let’s come back to our big question - how much effect does winning the toss have? For this World Cup, I’d say it does have a big effect. Why else did we see fielding chosen 31 times? More tellingly, when relatively equal teams were matched the teams that chose to bat first lost 4 out of 4.

What will we see from here on in? Equally matched teams that must win a match will choose to field first - for the semis and the final you can guarantee it! Paradoxically, choosing to bat second won’t guarantee you a win but choosing to bat first will set you up for a loss.

I’ll leave the last word to Graeme Smith, the South African team captain, who on losing the toss in the match against New Zealand reputedly said that South Africa would have batted anyway. The probability of that being a lie based on the record of the whole tournament is 77.5% (31 from 40) and from his own record at the tournament (won the toss 4 times, fielded 4 times) the probability is 100%. 10 points for bravado, 0 for credibility.

3 Responses to “World Cup Cricket - if you win the toss do you win the match?”

  1. Steve Says:

    Did you notice that Ireland won the toss batted first and won the match against Bangladesh?

  2. Sumit Says:

    Bangladesh did not have the bowlers, except for Mortaza, to fully exploit the advantage of bowling first. Their bowling literally revolves around their left-arm spinners.

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