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To toss or not to toss?

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Toss_Test_CricketTo toss or not to toss: that is the question. At least, it is one that is discussed a lot these days.

There is no question that cricket is a sport where the spin of a coin affects the outcome of a game much more so than in any other sport. Some pundits have been advocating to get rid of the toss in Tests and simply giving the visiting side the choice of choosing whether to bat or field. They feel that the die is heavily loaded in favour of home teams, who have the advantage in the conditions.

In recent times, visiting teams have consistently struggled. Experts feel that allowing them the choice of batting or fielding while doing away with the toss may even the scales. However, are visiting teams struggling to win because they are ill-equipped to win overseas or because of the spin of the coin not going their way?

For the purpose of analyzing the role of the toss, let us consider all the results in Tests until 13th June 2018. Only Tests with a decisive result have been considered. Draws and Tied Tests have not been included.

Out of the 2,306 Tests that have been played till the cutoff date, 1,546 have had a decisive result. Out of these 1,546 Tests, 824 have been won by the side winning the toss, while 722 have been won by the side losing the toss. That translates to the side winning the toss, winning 53.3 % of the time, while the side losing the toss wins 46.7% of the time. That suggests that the toss does not play that much of an outcome.

Let us go a little deeper in our analysis and investigate whether the toss makes a difference in home and away conditions.

Using the same cutoff date, there have been 926 Tests won by the team playing at home. Out of these, 506 have been won by the side winning the toss and 420 have been won by the side losing the toss. This equates to home teams winning 54.64% of the time when they win the toss and 45.36% of the time when they lose the toss. Again, this is a minor difference and can be explained as a team being more adept at home and familiar with the conditions rather than the toss playing a crucial role.

Away from home, out of the 591 Tests which have been won by a visiting side, 302 have been won by the side winning the toss while 289 have been won by the side losing the toss. That means that the visiting team won 51.1% of the Tests when they win the toss, while 48.9% when they lose the toss.

A common opinion in cricketing circles is that in the last 5 years, visiting teams have struggled to win, while home teams tend to rule the roost. Taking into consideration Tests played from 1st January 2013 till 13th June 2018, teams winning the toss have won on 112 occasions, while teams losing the toss have won on 82 occasions out of the 194 Tests with a decisive result. This means the team winning the toss has won 57.73% of the Tests, while teams losing the toss has won 42.27% of them.

So. While the percentage of the team winning the toss and winning the match has increased in the last 5 years, it has still not reached alarming proportions.

In the last 5 years at home, the team winning the toss has won the match 57.6% of the time while the team losing the toss has won 42.4%. Away from home, the team winning the toss has won 29 Tests and the team losing the toss has won on 24 occasions. This equates to the visiting team winning 54.71% of the games when they win the toss and 45.29% when they lose the toss.

Let us go even deeper and find out if the toss plays a different role in different parts of the world. India and Sri Lanka are two premier teams in the sub-continent and Australia, England and South Africa are powerhouses in Tests outside the sub-continent. Pakistan has not been considered for the purpose of this analysis as they host their Tests in neutral venues and Bangladesh is a team that could skew the analysis as they don’t win many Tests.

If we take India and Sri Lanka combined, the home team has won 19 Tests when they win the toss and won 13 Tests when they lose the toss. This means that India and Sri Lanka together win Tests 59.38% of the time when they win the toss and 40.62% when they lose the toss.

However, out of the 10 Tests won by the visiting teams in these 2 countries, 80% have taken place when they won the toss and just 20% when they have lost the toss (8 on winning the toss and 2 on losing the toss). This is the first real evidence we have that suggests that the toss plays a crucial role in determining the outcome of the Test for a visiting team in the sub-continent.

If we take the combined record of Australia, England and South Africa, the home team has won 91 Tests on winning the toss and 99 Tests after losing the toss, which is 47.9% and 52.1% respectively. This is the only occasion in the entire analysis where the team losing the toss has won on more occasions than the team winning the toss. Even visiting teams in these 3 countries have won on 53 occasions (58.24%) when losing the toss while winning on 38 occasions (41.76%) when winning the toss.

Conclusion:

The evidence shows that in Test history, the outcome of the match does not hinge much on winning the toss. The more capable team is still likely to win. In the past 5 years, the percentage of teams winning the toss has increased slightly but not enough to warrant a drastic change like abolishing the toss.

In Australia, England and South Africa combined in the last 5 years, the visiting team wins more Tests after losing the toss as opposed to winning the toss. In India and Sri Lanka in the last 5 years, the visiting team wins only 20% of the time on losing the toss. That is the only alarming sign. However, the sample size is small and the results can be explained by the strength of these two teams at home rather than the toss being the deciding factor.

It would be hasty and erroneous to do away with the toss just because of the inability of visiting teams to win in India and Sri Lanka. One possible compromise could be to have neutral curators. The toss remains an intriguing and crucial part of the game and its sanctity and importance should be preserved.

 

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