To bat first or bowl first - How does a Cricket team captain decide?


In the game of Cricket, the captain who wins the toss has to decide whether to bat first or bowl first. But is this just a straightforward decision or there is some brain involved in deciding this? Does this decision matter so much? Let us try to figure it out in this article.

Introduction

Many of us watch cricket matches with great interest and we know that a lot of importance is attached to the toss before the match begins. This is because the captain who wins the toss gets the opportunity to decide whether to bat or bowl first. If the result of the match is not in the team's favor we often hear commentators commenting that batting first or bowling first was a wrong decision by the captain. As cricket viewers we also tend to feel this sometimes that had the team batted or bowled first they would have won. But is there really any logic behind this? All the team has to do is to bowl well or bat well whether they do it first or second. How does winning or losing a toss and batting first or second impact the result of the match? These questions are very valid and truth behind it is that the team who performs well in all the areas like batting, bowling, and fielding wins the match, so winning or losing of toss should not be attached unnecessary importance. But it cannot be denied that sometimes there are some factors which favor the team batting first or second and the cricket team captain who wins the toss should be aware of them to make an informed decision to either bat or bowl first. This will allow the team to extract an extra advantage.

Pros and cons of batting first or second

In general, there are some advantages and disadvantages for both batting first and second. One of the main advantages of batting second is that the team has target runs to chase available with them. Based on this target they can plan their batting for the innings and decide their approach. If target runs to get are too high then they can plan aggressive stroke play right from the beginning while if total to chase is low then they do not need to be aggressive and take risks unnecessarily. They can easily take singles and twos with a boundary in between on loose balls to reach the target. Thus the team batting second gets this luxury of a run target to chase in front of them and they can bat accordingly. But sometimes if the target to chase is too high then this advantage becomes a disadvantage if the opposition is bowling well and runs do not come off easily. The required run rate keeps on climbing and ultimately team batting second comes under pressure and they start playing rash strokes and make mistakes which result in loss of wickets. Hence for a team which is able to bat under this pressure and keeps a cool head while chasing a huge target tends to be successful while batting second.

For the team batting first, it is completely different. They have no target to chase in front of them, instead, they need to set a target for the opposition team. So advantage here is that pressure to chase a huge target is not there here and the team can play freely. But disadvantage here is that team batting first needs to think how many runs they can make and how much target they should set for the opposition to have good chances to win. The team batting first has to make all the attempts to set a big target but they have to decide this based on the condition of the pitch. Few cricket pitches may favor bowlers and here setting even a medium target can make the opposition team struggle to achieve it. So a team batting first should wisely read the pitch and see what can be the good run target to set rather than blindly aiming at setting a huge target by showing aggression. This can result in loss of wickets and they may get bowled out for a very small total.

Factors considered while making bat first or bowl first decision

So let us try to understand what are the various factors which a captain keeps in mind while giving his decision to bat or bowl first after winning the toss.

  1. Team historical record and strength - Sometimes if you see the performance statistics of any cricket team over the past matches a trend may emerge which shows that the team has won more matches and performed well while batting first than second or vice versa. So for such teams, it may seem that batting first or second is their strength. If such is the case then the team captain will definitely like to go with their strengths and decide accordingly if there are no other impacting factors. Based on the reasons already described the team which is able to handle pressure well while batting second and chasing a huge target is likely to have a better record of winning while batting second. On the other hand, the team which falters under pressure while chasing a huge target will prefer to bat first and they will have good records of a win while batting first.

  2. General weather conditions - Weather conditions also play an important role and is one of the factors which is kept in mind by a team captain to take this decision. If it's a day match and if it has rained overnight then the pitch will have some moisture which can help the fast bowlers to swing the ball and trouble the opposition. This can be an advantage for first few overs. For the team bowling second this moisture in the pitch may dry out and this advantage may not be there. Hence a captain may decide to bat first in this case. Sometimes in a day and night match, there is likely to be dew falling in the second innings which will be during the evening to night time. Due to this dew factor ball will tend to get wet as it rolls on the ground and for the team bowling second bowlers will find difficult to grip the ball in their hands as it will be slippery. Especially, in this case, the spinners will struggle to spin the ball and their bowling is likely to be less effective. So here the team batting second is at an advantage.

    Sometimes there may be a breeze blowing in the match which can give help to fast bowlers to swing the ball. Hence depending on which time of the match the breeze is blowing, bowling first or second becomes an advantage.

  3. Rain interruption - If there is a forecast of rain during a match than the captain winning the toss may decide to bat second. The main reason behind this is that if there is a rain interruption during the second innings then for the team batting second the target is revised and shortened as the number of overs that can be bowled are reduced due to rain. As you must be knowing the famous Duckworth and Lewis method (DLS method) is applied to calculate the revised target and it is said that this rule works in advantage for the team batting second. At times this rule has also been under controversy. For example, if a team batting second is chasing a total of 320 runs in 50 overs and there is a rain interruption of one and a half hour in between after 20 overs are bowled. This means that around 20 overs are lost and after the play resumes the match will be only of 30 overs and the target will be revised accordingly as per the Duckworth and Lewis rule (DLS method). So even if the required run rate remains same since there are fewer overs and less total to get, the team batting second can take risks and achieve the target as earlier they needed to save wickets as they had to survive for more overs but now they need to survive for fewer overs.

    If there is rain in between the match than the outfield becomes wet and slippery. Due to wet outfield ball may not go to the boundary as fast as in the case of a dry outfield. Hence for the batsmen batting after the rain interruption, hitting boundaries becomes difficult. On the other hand for the fielding side, it becomes difficult to field sometimes as the outfield becomes slippery and the players need to be careful to avoid injuries. So based on when the rain is expected to come, the captain winning the toss needs to think along these lines before deciding to bat or bowl.

  4. Day match or Day-night match - Now, this is not a very important factor but still, sometimes it matters in a day and night match. In the day-night match, the team batting second has to bat under artificial floodlights while the team batting first gets to bat in a natural daylight. Sometimes it is said that it may be difficult to bat under the lights compared to the daytime. So although not a big factor, at times a captain winning the toss may tend to think in this perspective. But in modern cricket day and night matches become very common and teams should have the capability to bat equally well both during the daytime and also under the floodlights. So this may not be a very important factor nowadays.

  5. Pitch condition - Pitch condition is an important factor enabling the captain to take the decision of bowling or batting first. Sometimes pitch may be fresh and may have some grass on it in the early part of the innings which can assist the fast bowlers. Also, there may be some moisture in the pitch early on. All these advantages may not be there in the second innings as the game progresses. Any captain winning the toss will definitely like to tap these advantages in his favor.

    Also, sometimes pitches have some cracks on them and as the match progresses these cracks are likely to get wider which may favor bowlers. So here a team bowling second will have more advantage while bowling as the ball will spin more for the spinners due to cracks on the pitch and it may also help the fast bowlers. This is because after one inning is over the cracks on the pitch will be more compared to the first innings. Sometimes these cracks and unevenness in the pitch also cause the ball to keep low and slow and can trouble the batsmen and hence team batting second is again at a disadvantage.

Conclusion

So it is seen that there are a number of factors which the captain winning the toss needs to keep in mind before deciding to bat or bowl. Though playing well is the ultimate mantra to win the match but sometimes if these factors are kept in mind they may enhance the chance of a team winning the match. So while it may not directly impact the result it does play a side role. After the toss is done the captain should be ready with his decision whether to bat or bowl. He cannot decide at that time as the decision has to be made immediately. So a sensible cricket team captain will analyze all the possible factors before the toss happens and be ready with his decision to bat or bowl in a most informed way. A casual decision by the captain in this regard may sometimes create a difference between a loss and a win for the team. Nowadays most of the International team captains keep all these factors in mind.

Having said all this, it is important to note that irrespective of batting first or second it is the team balance and the performance that matters the most. Factors discussed in this article do help sometimes so any team will definitely like to take an advantage of it. Sometimes when these factors are very strong and both the teams are equally good then a lot of importance is attached to the toss as the captain who wins the toss may get an edge.


Comments

Author: neeru bhatt11 May 2018 Member Level: Gold   Points : 1

There are many factors which decide this but the main are the pitch condition, weather and following the target.

In spite of so many precautions, it is believed that cricket is a game of chance.



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