WG Grace, it's famously said, used to call "the lady" when tossing up. Seeing as coins of Victorian times had Her Majesty Queen Victoria on one side and Lady Britannia on the other, he was a certain winner.
True or not, the good Doctor always knew what to do once he had won the toss and that was to bat. The exception being when he though conditions favoured the bowling. The he would think about it and still bat.
These days debate rages even at pub or park level as to what the skipper should do on calling correctly. Is it all just a waste of time or is it an important decision?
Bat first. Unless...
Many follow the 'bat first' line come hell or high water. It is an attractive strategy in most circumstances. In declaration games it gives you control of the declaration and in limited over formats you are setting the target. Batting first trusts the batsmen to do their job and the bowlers to do theirs. It's a positive statement of intent.
That's why WG's default position was to bat first even when in a bit of doubt. What about exceptions?
- Overnight rain. For some reason if it rains the night before a match the ball swings like mad the next day, especially on warm but overcast morning sessions. If you have half decent swing bowling at your disposal then the best time for them to get wickets is first up. Use it.
- You have a strong bowling attack. If you bowling attack are demons but your batters are rabbits you can consider bowling first. The theory is to knock them over for a low score then knock it off.
- You have a weak side. Your best chance of victory, whatever the conditions, is to restrict the opposition to an under par score. It may be under par for them, but it may be just enough for you to get over the line. You have a higher chance of that than making a decent total then restricting the opposition. You can also save the game in declaration matches.
- Conditions will favour batting second. Most club pitches don't change much over the course of the game. Those that do are hard to predict anyway. However, a green wicket on a cloudy day is hard to resist for your bowlers. If a pitch is like a newly laid road and the day is bright and sunny then chances are nobody is bowling anyone out. So Why not stick the opposition in and knock off the runs?
None of these exceptions are hard and fast rules. Sometimes you will put the opposition in only for them to rack up a giant score. However, choosing to bat first simply to avoid the shame is foolhardy. The bottom line is this: when will conditions most favour bowling?
Most of the time, that means batting first but always be aware of the chance to put the opposition in as an attacking move.
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