Are you sure skipper? Proof batting first isn't what it's cracked up to be | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Are you sure skipper? Proof batting first isn't what it's cracked up to be

Batting first gives you control. It's the attacking way and its how cricket 'should be played'.

At least that's what the senior pros at my club and TV commentators say.

Except that you are also much more likely to lose.

At least, that's according to Economics Professor V. Bhaskar who studied the results of every daytime One Day International match and concluded that teams who win the toss and bat only win 44% of matches.

But teams who bowl win around 50% (which is what you would expect).

What gives?

And more importantly, can you apply this knowledge to your one day limited over matches?

Why do teams lose batting first?

There are several big reasons.

The main one, as most commentators will tell you, is that it's easier to get a score than to set one.

When you bat second in one day cricket you have a run rate, and that means you know what you need to do to keep up with it.

While that can add its own pressure if the rate is high, if you know you need 4 an over to win then you are less likely to take risks aiming to score at 5 or 6 an over when there is no need.

But there is another, often over looked reason that batting second is easier: You have 'overweighted'

Overweighting is when your analysis of your own or your opposition's strengths are not realistic and you choose to bat first in the mistaken thought that you will be more likely to win.

For example, the very strong West Indies team of the 1970s often chose to bowl first knowing they could bowl teams out for low scores. They were so strong bowling they had weighted correctly.

However, teams playing against the West Indies often won the toss and chose to bat because they felt their attack was weaker. Then got bowled out for a low score. They had underweighted.

Finally, like at my club, the draw of tradition is huge.

Losing if you bat first has far less of a stigma. Batting first is traditionally seen as an attacking move allowing you to control the game. If you lose, you have died trying. Captain's who want to play safe bat first and then lose.

So what do I do if I win the toss?

Based on the evidence of ODI games, it seems obvious that batting first gives you a large disadvantage.

There is no reason to think that this information is less relevant to club and school cricket either. In fact, it may be an even greater discrepancy as club teams don't know each other as well as international sides and are more likely to overweight.

Clearly you can't just rock up and field every time though.

You need to take into account other factors: pitch and weather conditions will make a difference, as will the relative strength of the opposition. But when in doubt it seems there is only one way to go.

And that's to commit heresy and field first.

image credit: TGGE

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Win the toss, bat first, put a decent score on the board and back your bowlers to do the job. Don't do a Nasser Hussain and stick the opposition in on a good track. A good team, like the Aussies have been for the last 10-15 years, won the toss and batted. The opposition is chasing the game from then on. Ricky Ponting deviated from this proven method and the poms put on on 400 on the first day at Edgbaston after he stuck them in.

Only bowl first if the conditions are very unfavourable for batting in the first few session and you expect the pitch and the conditions to change to more batting friendly later on in the day.

Chasing a target is IMO psychologically tougher than setting one. Bowling first is usually a tell tale sign of a weak batting lineup.

You say that, but the stats don't back it up. 44% win rate batting first is significantly lower than it should be (i.e 50%)

I would be very careful to read too much into these stats. These aggregate stats need to be further refined to show us more meaningful information. One thing I would like to see is country by country comparison. I would like to know the stats of the Aussie team winning the toss and batting first in the last 10 years in ODI's. I would hasten to say they would be above 50%.

I would be very careful to read too much into these stats. These aggregate stats need to be further refined to show us more meaningful information. One thing I would like to see is country by country comparison. I would like to know the stats of the Aussie team winning the toss and batting first in the last 10 years in ODI's. I would hasten to say they would be above 50%.

In our competition, the pitches we play are not the greatest and they deteriorate a fair bit by the 2nd innings. So the best time to bat would be first. Batting second on a deteriorating pitch with the spinners turning the ball square is not the best time to chase, believe me. A lot of this really depends on the pitch and conditions.

I agree, conditions and relative strengths are important. I don't have any stats for Australia specifically but it's interesting that the West Indies in the 1970's won the toss and fielded first much more often because they had weighted their bowling strength correctly. My point is that we often don't take into account the clear disadvantage fielding first gives us. Yes, different conditions and relative strengths can overcome this difference, but we must keep the disadvantage in mind. It's statistically significant enough.

Interesting you bring the Windies up. You could make the argument their batting wasn't as strong in the 70's as it probably was in the 80's. They got a hiding on the 75-76 tour of Australia, lost 5-1. So you could make the argument that they were doing that to protect their relatively weaker batting lineup.

The West Indies example is I feel a case of an unbalanced cricket team that was heavily skewed towards bowling. If you compare it to Australia in the last 10-15 years, they have had a very strong bowling and batting lineup, so the traditional method of win the toss, bat first made sense.

Australia are an interesting case having won the vast majority of their games in the last 10 years. I had a quick look at the stats and they win batting first or second showing they are a vastly stronger team no matter what they do, thus countering the disadvantage.

Most tellingly, of the mere 9 games they lost on winning the toss between 2000-2010 they lost batting first on 7 occasions. It seems even the great Aussie team, who any club side would struggle to emulate in dominance, even had a slight disadvantage batting first.

By the way, I'm taking day-night games out of the calculations here.

Well you could argue 7 games out of the whole total of the last ten years isn't such a bad run. There would probably be a few dead rubber games in amongst them as well.

I can recall Australia bowling first when they have won the toss, but against weak sides, like Kenya, USA, Bangladesh, the minnows. I can see how the bowl first option would work when you are facing very weak sides, but even the weak sides can give you kick in the backside now and then.

I owuld be cautious of using Australia as a model. They have been so much stronger than everyone else they have been able to mostly counter the difference of the disadvantage. However, even they have not been immune to it. They were equally unsuccessful batting first during the '70s and '80s. My point is, can you say your team is massively stronger than the opposition? If not, should you try and emulate a side who are?

Well I think in most competitions the teams will find out quickly which sides are strong and which side sre weak. You usually know who the weak sides are relying on past results and their current standing on the competition table.

But my point about Australia was that they were a balanced side, that is, they had good batsmen and good bowlers. If you are a club side with a balanced lineup, then the bat first option is on the cards (pending on conditions)

The Windies and Australia are the obvious outliers in such discussions, maybe we need to focus on the middle and lower ranked teams to remove the bias of dominant teams.

I say, forget the statistics, and go with what the weather and the pitch are telling you. If its cold, wet and grassy, bowl, knock em over with pace and swing, and knock em off. If its hot, hard and dry, bat first, make the buggers run around in the heat and then spin them out on the baked pitch as they try to force the pace.

The psychology arguments go both ways: a good batting side might want to bat first in the knowledge that at big score will demoralise the opposition, or they might want to bowl first because they back themselves to chase down whatever the opposition make. Its swings and roundabouts.

I agree AB, but I would also say that you should keep the 44% stat in mind if it's not as clear cut. What if you know both sides are equally well balanced and it's a good cricket wicket with something for bowling and batting?

It's important not to stick doggedly to stats, but also not to forget them.

I think its interesting that a side batting first are more likely to win if they were inserted rather than if they chose to bat themselves. What causes that? Do teams that win the toss and bat first put too much pressure on themselves to perform? Is the decision symptomatic they underestimating the opposition?

If there were an actual unsuspected strategic disadvantages to batting first, then we should see it in both sets of figures - but we don't - the disadvantage only comes into play upon winning the toss.

The most insightful statistics is that winning the toss is bad for you - you win less than 50% of the games. Who would have suspected that?

Have thought about this question alot, particularly as SA (where I'm from) have a tendancy to bowl first then not bat quick enough; the pressure mounts and they crumble. Think of the last world cup and last chamions trophy which both ended that way for the team.

What would be interesting to note is the average score made batting first. Another post you made indicated how magical the score of 200 was. I used cricinfo to analyse the scores made when batting first in ODI's; if you scored under 200 then it was about even batting and bowling, but 220+ meant you won nearly two thirds of matches, indicating that if you lost your batting had underperformed, as chances are you did not obtain the required minimum. There is certainly less pressure batting first, as you know how the pitch is playing by the time you take the field. You might only make 190, but you've seen how the opposition went about restricting you, and that will give you and your bowlewrs self belief (unless you were bowled out for a clearly sub par score, in which case it will work against you, as you will phsychologically demotivate yourself/lose self belief).

The question then is not whether you bat or bowl first, but whether you control the first innings. Do so either batting first or bowling first and the second innings will leave you psychologically stronger than the opposition

You forgot the Ties Smiling

What do you mean?