August 29, 2008

Call correct, call the shots

At some venues hosting day-night ODIs, just winning the toss might be enough

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has done his team a favour by winning the toss frequently of late © AFP

India's win in the ODI series against Sri Lanka was a result of many things. Decisive and confident leadership by a man whose personality is fast rubbing off on the team, consistently strong bowling performances, and crucial knocks by the middle order were all significant factors. What was also crucial, though, was the toss, which went India's way on each of the four occasions. Mahendra Singh Dhoni misread the conditions the first time, but learnt quickly: India chose to bowl in Dambulla, and then batted first twice in a row at the Premadasa Stadium, ensuring that Sri Lanka chased when conditions were excellent for bowling.

Don Bradman once said the first job of the captain is to win the toss, and in that respect Mahela Jayawardene was an utter failure. He started the series saying the toss wasn't of much significance, but after losing four in a row he was forced to admit the results might have been different had the coin fallen in Sri Lanka's favour. The last two tosses, in the day-night games at the Premadasa, were especially crucial, for the ball swung, seamed and spun much more under lights than it did in the afternoon.

Sri Lanka's overall record at this ground is excellent - they've won 44 and lost 19 - but it's even more imposing when they win the toss in day-night matches: 16 victories, offset by a mere three defeats. In fact, the Premadasa has been a particularly kind venue to the team winning the toss in day-night games. Since 2000, the team calling correctly has won 25 out of 35 matches that have produced a decisive result. These numbers include all ODIs played, but even if you exclude the games involving the lesser teams - as their winning the toss and then losing the match might distort the data - the percentage for the Premadasa remains a very high 71.43.

The only ground where the numbers are even more skewed is Newlands in Cape Town. Since 2000, 16 games have been played under lights here, 13 of which were won by the team winning the toss. Of the other three matches, two involved minnows: India chased down 226 against Kenya in the 2003 World Cup after losing the toss, and Kenya beat Canada in the same tournament. Remove Kenya and Canada and the side winning the toss has won 11 out of 12 games. Clearly, at Newlands the toss plays a much greater role than merely getting the match underway; it almost decides the winner - 14 of these 16 ODIs were won by the team batting first, which suggests that chasing under lights creates an unfair disadvantage.

Toss and results at each venue in day-night ODIs since 2000 (excluding games involving B'desh, Zim and other non-Test-playing teams; cut-off: 5 matches)
Venue ODIs Decisive ODIs Won by team winning toss Percentage
Newlands, Cape Town 12 12 11 91.67
Premadasa Stadium, Colombo 31 28 20 71.43
Kingsmead, Durban 13 10 7 70.00
Eden Park, Auckland 12 12 8 66.67
Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore 17 17 11 64.71

The debate about day-night games offering an unfair advantage to the side winning the toss has been a long standing one, and the table below suggests that in certain countries, that argument is justified. With Cape Town and Durban both in the top three of the list above, it's hardly surprising that South Africa pips Sri Lanka to pole position here. In both countries, the team winning the toss goes on to win nearly two-thirds of the ODIs. In the other countries, though, the percentages are much closer to 50, suggesting that the toss hasn't been much of a factor.

Even in Sri Lanka, the stats aren't skewed at the only other venue that has hosted day-night ODIs since 2000 - in the 13 games played under lights in Dambulla, the team winning the toss has won seven and lost six. (Exclude the minnows and the number drops to five wins for the team winning the toss, and six losses.)

Toss and results in each country in day-night ODIs since 2000 (excluding games involving B'desh, Zim and other non-Test-playing teams)
Host country ODIs Decisive ODIs Won by team winning toss Percentage
South Africa 49 44 29 65.91
Sri Lanka 42 39 25 64.10
India 42 39 21 53.85
New Zealand 47 45 24 53.33
England 20 17 9 52.94
Australia 101 97 51 52.78
Sharjah 36 36 19 52.58
Pakistan 40 40 20 50.00
Overall 394 371 208 56.06

In day games, though, the advantage is clearly smaller. Sri Lanka still sits at No. 2 in terms of percentage of wins for teams winning the toss, but the difference is marginal. In fact, in three countries, England, Pakistan and India, the teams calling correctly have won less than 50% of games. The overall percentages in day games are closer to 50% too, by about four percentage points.

Toss and results in each country in ODIs since 2000 (excluding games involving B'desh, Zim and other non-Test-playing teams)
Host country ODIs Decisive ODIs Won by team winning toss Percentage
New Zealand 75 73 42 57.53
Sri Lanka 74 70 39 55.71
South Africa 97 92 51 55.43
Sharjah 36 36 19 52.78
Australia 119 115 60 52.17
West Indies 76 73 37 50.68
England 83 76 37 48.68
Pakistan 51 51 24 47.06
India 93 90 42 46.67
Overall 753 721 377 52.29

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.