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Win toss and bat, mate!

Updated on: 10 April,2024 08:14 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ian Chappell |

The idea of inserting the opposition in important matches often lacks common sense; fielding first also suggests a lack of faith in the openers

Win toss and bat, mate!

India’s captain Rohit Sharma (left) tosses the coin while his England counterpart Ben Stokes looks on before the first Test at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad earlier this year. Pic/Getty Images

Ian ChappellIt’s becoming a trend—certainly in Australia—for the captain winning the toss to send the opposition in to bat. 

It happened on every occasion in the last six Sheffield Shield matches of the season. Then, in a rather worrying imitation, it occurred all six times in the Sydney first grade finals. As talented English actress Emma Thompson shrewdly observed in a recent movie: “There are a lot of sheep out there dressed in human clothing.” 

The idea of regularly winning the toss then inserting the opposition in important matches often lacks common sense and the wonder is, whose decision is it? Is it the captain alone deciding to bowl first or is he being ill-advised by the backroom hierarchy? Or is it a trend that has developed from T20 cricket, where it’s helpful to know the target? 

Confusing decision

The decision was exceedingly confusing in the case of the Sydney first grade finals, where the team that finishes higher on the minor round table advances if there is no-result in the match. On most occasions this meant the team that advanced in the case of a no-result, batted well into the second day to ensure the opposition was shut out of the game. 

Surely if a lower-placed team bats first on winning the toss and plays well, then they can at least determine when to declare. After all, they are the team that HAS to capture all 10 wickets to win and advance. 

It’s better to be in a position to declare your first innings to try and win, rather than the match eventually being abandoned because the advantaged team bats well into the second day. 

Fielding first after winning the toss also suggests a lack of faith in the openers. It should be an accepted fact in cricket that openers are selected because they have the qualities to see you through a tough new ball period. 

The definition of insanity is when the same decision is repeatedly taken, but a different result is expected. That means many captains in Australian cricket have attained the required criteria. 

Scoreboard pressure, where wickets can be gained because a satisfactory first innings total has been posted, is a reality. 

There are exceptions to every rule, but especially in a knockout match it is usually best to post a decent total in the hope of winning the game. Short versions of the game like T20 are an altogether different proposition. 

Confident Lehmann

A good example of batting first is a young Darren Lehmann (who went on to represent Australia). When South Australian captain David Hookes sent the opposition in on a renowned good batting pitch at Adelaide Oval, Lehmann grabbed the skipper by the collar and screamed; “I drove to the ground today fresh and prepared to bat.”  The operative word in Lehmann’s sensible lament was “fresh.” 

Also Read: Half ton, full confidence!

Freshness factor

Why would you want to field while you are fresh, but then bat when weary after having spent hours in the field chasing leather? 

The old Vic Richardson quote that he passed on to me is often invoked: “If you win the toss then nine times you bat first and on the 10th occasion you ponder the decision, but still bat.” It’s worth remembering that grandfather Richardson was a former Australian captain in an era of uncovered pitches. It doesn’t make sense in that case to not bat first if you win the toss in dry conditions. 

However, in the case of covered pitches there is still plenty to recommend batting first. In that case, a team bats while the players are fresh and can claim a substantial advantage if they post a decent total. Then, if they bowl well that advantage is enhanced. 

Whatever decision is taken at the toss you need to play well, but there are many reasons why batting first is best. After all there is only one decision a captain, who wins the toss has to make: How do we best go about winning the game?    

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