Proof batting first is a bad idea

By David Hinchcliffe, Director of Coaching, PitchVision Academy

Do you know batting first is not good for your cricket?

Tradition says batting first gives you control. It's the attacking way and it’s how cricket 'should be played'. At least that's what the senior pros at my club and TV commentators say.

But, according to Economics Professor V. Bhaskar who studied the results of every daytime One Day International match, in reality teams who win the toss and bat only win 44% of matches.

Teams who bowl win around 50% (which is what you would expect).

What gives?

And more importantly, can you apply this knowledge to your one day limited over matches?

Why do teams lose batting first?

There are several big reasons.

The main one, as most commentators will tell you, is that it's easier to get a score than to set one.

When you bat second in one day cricket you have a run rate, and that means you know what you need to do to keep up with it.

While that can add its own pressure if the rate is high, if you know you need 4 an over to win then you are less likely to take risks aiming to score at 5 or 6 an over when there is no need.

But there is another, often over-looked reason that batting second is easier: you have 'overweighted'

Overweighting is when your analysis of your own or your opposition's strengths are not realistic and you choose to bat first in the mistaken thought that you will be more likely to win.

For example, the very strong West Indies team of the 1970s often chose to bowl first knowing they could bowl teams out for low scores. They were so strong bowling they had weighted correctly.

However, teams playing against the West Indies often won the toss and chose to bat because they felt their attack was weaker. Then got bowled out for a low score. They had underweighted.

Finally, like at my club, the draw of tradition is huge.

Losing if you bat first has far less of a stigma. Batting first is traditionally seen as an attacking move allowing you to control the game. If you lose, you have died trying. Captains who want to play safe bat first and then lose.

So what do I do if I win the toss?

Based on the evidence of ODI games, it seems obvious that batting first gives you a significant disadvantage.

There is no reason to think that this information is less relevant to club and school cricket either.

In fact, it may be an even greater discrepancy as club teams don't know each other as well as international sides and are more likely to overweight.

Clearly you can't just rock up and field every time though.

You need to consider other factors: pitch and weather conditions will make a difference, as will the relative strength of the opposition. But, when in doubt it seems there is only one way to go.

And that's to commit heresy and field first.

Posted in Coaching, Cricket

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