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Numbers Game

Why the Supersub isn't a super idea

The Supersub system hands over too much advantage to the team winning the toss, and must be changed

S Rajesh
S Rajesh

Malinga Bandara: Sri Lanka's answer to the Supersub quandary, but should the rule itself stay? © Getty Images
Earlier this week, Ricky Ponting made public his views on the two innovations brought into one-day cricket eight months back. Speaking to BBC Sport about the introduction of the Supersub and Powerplays in ODIs, Ponting gave his take on the matter in no unclear terms: "I don't think there's anything lost by going back. We'll keep trying and making the best of it but I'd like to see us going back to 11 against 11 for the World Cup."
The main grouse against the Supersub rule is the fact that teams have to name their 12th player before the toss. Common sense suggests that changes to the laws should be made to take away the importance of the toss - for it should only be a means to start a match - but this rule makes the spin of the coin even more vital. For the team losing the toss, it is often a double-whammy, for they also have to deal with a situation where 11 from their team will be pitted against 12 from the opposition's. Ponting offered one such example when Sri Lanka chose to bat after Brett Dorey, the Australian fast bowler, was named Supersub. "He goes out of the game and you're playing 11 against 12."
Since the format was introduced, on July 7 last year in a NatWest Challenge match between England and Australia, 60 ODIs have been played with those innovations in place, a large enough number to do a statistical study and try and analyse the effects of these changes. Is there a greater correlation between winning the toss and winning the match than there used to be earlier? Which are the teams that have seemingly made the best use of this rule, and which are the ones who haven't got the hang of it yet?
The correlation between winning the toss and winning the match offers a damning indictment of just how unfair the new system is: of the 58 ODIs with the Supersub rule which have produced a result, 39 have been won by the team winning the toss - that's 67%. In seven of those matches, the toss played virtually no hand, since those games involved Zimbabwe or Bangladesh playing against a much stronger opponent. Assuming that the toss was irrelevant in those contests, and hence excluding them from the analysis, the team calling correctly has won 36 out of the remaining 51 games, that's a whopping 70.59%.
In the one-and-a-half-year period before the rule change (from January 2004 to June 2005), the corresponding correlation percentage was 60.36 (67 out of 111, excluding games which involved the minnows), much lower than the last eight months' figure. What's also interesting is the win percentage for teams winning the toss during the period 2000 to 2004 - it's only 48.59 (172 out of 354; again, it excludes the matches played by Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and other non-Test-playing sides). So, it would seem, a format that was already being influenced excessively by the toss has veered a whole lot further in that direction thanks to the Supersub system.
Correlation between toss and match result*
Period Team wins toss
and match
Total matches Percentage
2000-2003 172 354 48.59
2004-July 6, 2005 67 111 60.36
July 7, 2005-Feb 7, 2006
(Only the Supersub matches)
36 51 70.59
* Excludes matches involving Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and all non-Test-playing teams
Australia have made excellent use of the Supersub, winning 90% of the games in which they won the toss (nine out of ten), though it can be argued that over the last few years they've won almost everything anyway, regardless of the rules and conditions. Among the other sides, Pakistan have a 100% record of winning matches when they've won the toss, but their sample size is just two games. India and South Africa (six out of seven) haven't done badly either, but the team which has struggled the most is Sri Lanka. Marvan Atapattu admitted that their side hadn't understood the best way to take advantage of the rule, and their results show - four wins in ten matches when they've won the toss.
How teams have adapted to the Supersub
Team Toss won Toss and match won Percentage
Pakistan 2 2 100%
Australia 10 9 90
India 7 6 85.71
South Africa 7 6 85.71
New Zealand 8 5 62.50
England 5 3 60
Asia XI 2 1 50
Sri Lanka 10 4 40
The other interesting aspect of the new method is to study how the teams have named their Supersub. You'd normally expect sides to maximise their advantage in the event that the coin rolled their way at the toss: that is, choose a bowler as a Supersub if batting first, and a batsman if the idea is to insert the opposition. That ensures a team the resources of 12 players. The danger of such a move, though, is in the event of the side losing the toss, when the Supersub might have to be pressed into service early, thus denying the team the maximum utilisation of 12 players. The Indian think-tank once went in with S Sreesanth as their Supersub, and then promptly won the toss and inserted Sri Lanka in to bat. It meant they were sacrificing the advantage of having an extra player - for if Sreesanth was subbed, he would either replace a batsman, or a bowler who had already bowled a few overs - but as Rahul Dravid explained later, the Indians were trying to hedge their bets in case they lost the toss and had to bat first.
What India did in that match, though, isn't the norm. In 60 matches when the Supersub has been used, 51 times he has been chosen with the intent of putting forward the strongest team assuming the coins rolls favourably, that is, a batsman as a Supersub if the team is fielding first, or a bowler to bolster the attack later if batting is the preferred option at the toss. The last team to buck that trend was Pakistan, in the first ODI of the ongoing series at Peshawar, when they inserted India and yet chose Arshad Khan as their Supersub.
Sri Lanka might be struggling to come to grips with this system, but the emergence of Malinga Bandara seems to have solved their Supersub problem. Bandara has performed superbly in the last few matches in Australia, with his 4 for 31 against South Africa making him only the third Supersub to win the Man-of-the-Match award - Shane Bond and Jeetan Patel are the only others to have achieved this feat.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan in the Chennai office.