Conventional wisdom in limited-overs cricket had for long dictated that teams winning the toss should bat first, especially in high-profile games where the pressure of the asking rate can be a swaying factor.
It is hard not to arrive at that line of thinking in the aftermath of IPL and the T20 World Cup in particular, where the numbers were startlingly in favour of the teams batting second. In IPL this year, held across India and the UAE, 37 of the 60 matches were won by the team batting second (CSK’s win in the final, however, came despite losing the toss and batting first). The balance was tilted even more heavily at the T20 World Cup. A winning percentage of 62 for chasing teams in IPL rose to 67 at the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup.
For world champions Australia, still revelling in their title glory, the record was a spotless six out of six while batting second at the marquee event. The one instance they lost the toss and were inserted in, England hurtled to an eight-wicket victory.
Luck is a critical component of any team’s ascent to the title for certain, but how much luck is too much luck? It is a question Australia skipper Aaron Finch can ask himself with a cheerful grin now.
“The toss did play a big factor to be honest,” Finch said after the final against New Zealand. “I tried to play it down as much as I could because I thought at some point in the tournament I’m going to lose a toss and we’ll have to bat first. But it did play a big part. Maybe it was just fate.”
India didn’t enjoy that good fortune, especially when it really mattered. They lost the toss in crucial games against Pakistan and New Zealand and lost both as the scores they made batting first were simply not good enough to challenge teams that were on an equal footing.
In Rohit Sharma’s first match as full-time T20I captain against New Zealand on Wednesday, the outcome of the toss was different and so was the result. Unlike the UAE, where 6pm starts negate dew to a large extent in the first innings, the 7pm start in Jaipur meant that both teams had their struggles with it. Axar Patel’s full toss, as a result of the ball slipping out of his hand, was a case in point.
The reason for heavy dew on the field is the condensation of water vapour due to heat generated by the floodlights. It helps bind the pitch and the ball starts to come on to the bat nicely, allowing the chasing team batters to play freely.
Beyond the dew then, there is also something to be said about a batter’s uncluttered mindset when chasing a target these days. Suryakumar Yadav, who was chosen Player-of-the-Match for his breezy 62, made that point at the post-match media conference in Jaipur.
“When chasing, you can pace your innings accordingly. When two openers walk in, they know exactly what the situation is and the target in front of them. They can get a start accordingly. And the middle-order can take the game ahead. When you have a target, I feel you can plan your game properly as a batter and just go out and win it,” he said.
Yadav perhaps makes chasing sound far more straightforward than it is—the execution of skills still needs to be spot on—but he also embodies the mindset of the modern-day batter. The evolution of T20s and the relentless diet of limited-overs cricket they are fed, after all, have resulted in batters backing themselves regardless of how much they need in the final few overs.
The apparent advantage for chasing teams has been highlighted in recent days given what unfolded in the T20 World Cup, but a closer look at the statistics suggests that this has been the case for quite some time. Since the 2014 edition in Bangladesh, eight of the nine knockout matches in the tournament have been won by the team batting second.
That is why Sharma didn’t hesitate to bowl first on winning the toss on Wednesday. New Zealand stand-in skipper Tim Southee said he would have done the same. While that pattern looks set to continue in the next two games in Ranchi and Kolkata, a win for the team batting first would be a welcome change even if the odds are against it.