Winning the toss - why is it so crucial?

The toss is irrelevant in most sports - not cricket - so what can you do if you can't control the toss?

It's 1.45pm - you've met up with your team, you've said hello to old friends in the opposition, you've ignored / snarled at your old enemies in the opposition, you've shouted at some kids to "get off the square" and now it's that time... the toss.

You're probably wondering "why bother writing about something that only takes a split second"? Well it's a many-varied thing, is the toss. They are won, lost, negotiated (!), argued over and ignored. All on a regular basis. But more importantly, the outcome of the toss can be absolutely crucial to the outcome of a game. In some circumstances, very unfairly so:

Limited overs cricket

In this form of cricket (in amateur, Duckworth and Lewis-less cricket), the toss can be critical. On a day like today (current weather in Liverpool: rain), losing the toss would be catastrophic if you were playing limited overs cricket. Imagine the scenario:

  • You lose the toss and are put into to bat
  • The wicket is damp and green
  • You lose early wickets
  • You consolidate
  • You end up with a modest total (maybe just over 100) but are bowled out with 10 overs remaining
  • The opposition start the chase
  • The pitch is much drier now
  • Much, much drier
  • That's annoying
  • You've just lost by 10 wickets with 30 overs remaining

In some formats of limited overs cricket the opposition would even get your 10 overs that you didn't use to play with! Hardly seems fair, does it? So what's the answer? We can't control the weather (we can actually, it's just too expensive). We can't control the toss...

Declaration cricket

In declaration cricket, the team batting first can bat for as long as they need / can. But crucially, they have to bowl the opposition out to win the game. Therefore, when judging a declaration, you have to consider giving yourself enough time to do so. Therefore, unless you want a draw (why?) you will always declare before the point when you've ruined the chance of a result. Imagine the scenario:

  • You lose the toss and are put into to bat
  • The wicket is damp and green
  • You don't lose early wickets because you are batting sensibly because there is no time limit
  • You are 120-5, scoring slowly after 2 hours 30, with 2 hours 30 remaining
  • The pitch starts to dry
  • You feel you can push on and aim to leave the opposition chasing 180 in 1 hour 45
  • You declare on 180-8 after 3 hours 15
  • The opposition bat - they need approximately 5 runs per over, but the pitch is now dry
  • Both teams have a great second innings because the batsmen are playing shots and the bowling side are trying to get wickets

Now in that scenario, you may lose heavily. You may win easily. But the point is that it's fair. It's actually much more fun to play in too - but this article wasn't meant to be about the advantages of playing declaration cricket. It's about the toss...

And finally...

You won the toss! Your team are staring at you from the sidelines. You make the standard '2-fingers down the seam gesture' and you're bowling first. It's a mantra you hear in league cricket all the time - "bowl first, always bowl first". And yes, on the face of it, it seem as though it's a lot less complicated to win a match, no matter the weather, by bowling first. In declaration cricket, unless the opposition batting first come for a draw, especially so.

However, batting first should never be ignored. The following scenarios could be avoided when batting first:

  • Chasing leather for 2-3 hours in the baking sun whilst the opposition rack-up 300-1
  • Capitulating due to scroreboard-pressure / exhaustion whilst chasing (see above)
  • Relying on your batsmen to chase, when they possibly don't all have the mentalitiy to do so
  • Missing out on the joy of bowling a team out to win a match
  • Having to set defensive fields
  • Having to ask bowlers to bowl defensively
  • Not being able to give an opportunity to younger or lesser-abled players because they might "leak runs"
  • Midday sun
  • Actually having to do something before tea

So next time you win the toss, on a nice day, imagine the opposition going through all those things. It might help your decision.

Rob Johnson


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