Does it pay to win the toss?

Something that has always bugged me about cricket is that the coin toss seems to have a huge impact. That’s the framing, anyway. The entire first morning of a test match is usually taken with what the winner should do – bat or bowl first.

Innumerable factors play into this decision, including weather, recent games, psychology and schedule. It sometimes seems more art than science.

But does it matter? Between 2000 and 2018 the toss winner won about 40% of games and the loser about 35%, according to noted cricket statistician Ric Finlay. Considering the sheer number of games, this seems pretty significant. I decided to scrape Cricinfo’s stat page to see if there’s anything else to tease out.

Firstly, as you’d expect from a coin toss, the results of a coin toss are about 50/50. Here’s Australia’s record at home:

tosses

But let’s go a bit deeper and break it down by country. The results of test matches played in Australia roughly line up with what Finlay says. But, perhaps counter-intuitively, it seems winning the toss is slightly more advantageous in the shorter formats. I would have thought the opposite, as pitches deteriorate and there’s more time for poor weather etc. in a test match.

oztosswon

Some of this is probably noise. There have been significantly fewer T20s than test matches played, for instance. Maybe more to unpack in the ODI’s.

Funnily enough, India is pretty dire for my theory. It’s even worse for test matches in India and even better for T20 matches. But, again, relatively few T20 matches. Also significantly fewer test matches played in India than in Australia, so that’s one to watch.

indiatosswon

Let’s look at England. This one is a little closer to what we saw in Australia, which makes me think the quantity of matches played is important. It also makes me question the connection between the toss and weather.

engtosswon

All of this is roughly around with Finlay says, which makes me think there’s something to winning the toss. And the advantage for one dayers is pretty consistent across these countries. I’m not prepared to call it yet. But there could be a marginal effect here. Gonna keep exploring.