Media Briefings

CRICKET CAPTAINS DECIDE TO BAT FIRST TOO OFTEN IN ONE DAY INTERNATIONALS

  • Published Date: January 2009

Cricket captains make poor decisions when they win the toss in one day internationals (ODIs) played entirely in daylight: they bat first too often, since batting first reduces their chances of winning. But batting first in day-night ODIs gives teams a significant advantage. These are the central findings of research by Professor V. Bhaskar, published in the January 2009 issue of the Economic Journal.

Professor Bhaskar comments:

"It is surprising that bad decision-making has persisted for such a long time given the intensely competitive nature of international cricket, the high stakes involved and the expertise commanded by teams.‟

"In day matches, commentators seem to overvalue the importance of “runs on the board” and the “pressure of chasing”. The team batting second has the advantage of knowing the exact scoring rate it must achieve to win the game, and this advantage is under-appreciated.‟

Do cricket captains make good decisions when they win the toss in one-day matches? Winning the toss is like a randomised medical trial, where some patients are treated with a new drug while others are given a placebo. The toss is random and unrelated to the strengths of either team.

This study shows that if captains make decisions optimally, the team that wins the toss and bats first should win at least 50% of the time. Similarly, the team that wins the toss and fields should win no less than 50% of the time. The research uses data from all ODIs between the major teams to test these hypotheses.

The main findings are that:

Captains make poor decisions in day matches (those played entirely in daylight): they bat first too often, since batting first reduces their chances of winning.

In day-night matches (where the team batting second bats under floodlights), they seem to choose optimally, and get a significant advantage from batting first when they choose to do so.

In day matches, the team that wins the toss and bats wins only 43.7% of the time, well below the 50% threshold. When captains win the toss and field, the win percentage is statistically no different from 50%. Thus, teams bat first too often in day matches. In consequence, the team that wins the toss only wins the game 47.6% of the time.

The disadvantage from „sub-optimal‟ decision-making is large. It is of the
same magnitude as the „home advantage‟ that a team gets when playing in its
home country.

In day-night matches, the team that wins the toss and bats wins 55.5% of the time, thereby securing a significant advantage. When captains choose to field first, their win ratio is not statistically different from 50%. The team that wins the toss wins the game 53.7% of the time.

This evidence is consistent with captains choosing optimally in day-night matches, both when the bat first and when they field first. But it shows that they are making poor decisions in day matches. These results are unaffected by allowing for the differing strengths of teams.

Professor Bhaskar also argues that in any match, if it is optimal for one team to bat first on winning the toss, then it must be optimal for its opponent also to bat first. This follows from the fact that one-day cricket is a zero-sum game, so that a decision that increases my chances of winning must reduce my opponent‟s chances. This implies that the proportion of times that a team bats first on winning the toss must statistically be equal to the proportion of times that it fields first when its opponents win the toss.

While this hypothesis holds for day-night matches, it is rejected in the case of day matches. West Indies and Sri Lanka field first more frequently than their opponents. This could be due to a team overweighting its own strengths (the West Indies had very good fast bowlers for much of the period) while underweighting the strengths of their opponents.

The author is extending the analysis to cover Test cricket and Twenty-20 matches.

ENDS

Notes for editors: „Rational Adversaries? Evidence from Randomised Trials in One- Day Cricket‟ by V. Bhaskar is published in the January 2009 issue of the Economic Journal.

Professor Bhaskar is in the Department of Economics at University College London
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctpvbh/)

For further information: contact Professor Bhaskar on 0207-679-5879 (mobile: 07714-030201;email: v.bhaskar@ucl.ac.uk); or Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768661095 (email: romesh@vaitilingam.com).