Do teams chasing have better chance of winning a Twenty-20 game?
Twenty 20 cricket, since its inception 11 years ago, has always caught every cricket lover’s attention. It has seen some of the most exciting cricket being played over a relatively shorter duration, allowing many fans to sit through an entire match glued to the edge of their seats.
The number of T20 matches played over the last couple of years has increased at an alarming pace, because of the thrill of the game accompanied by the spectacular strike rates, innovative shots (looking at you De Villiers), bowling variations and the brilliant levels of fielding including some boundary line catches which would’ve been termed impossible as little as 5 years back.
What could’ve inconspicuously passed under the radar is the fact that of late, more and more teams seem to be winning these matches batting second, leading captains all over the world to want to chase after winning the toss.
We do not need to look any further than the present IPL season. Of the six matches played so far, the team batting second has emerged victorious five times. In each of these matches, the team that had won the toss had elected to bowl first.
Even in the Rajasthan Royals vs Delhi Daredevils match, where rain was predicted, Delhi won the toss and elected to bowl when usually teams prefer to bat first if there's a possibility of rain later on. But to further validate this claim to not be outlandishly brazen, we can take a look at some of the international T20 matches that have been played in the recent past.
The Nidahas Trophy was a triangular T20 series played in Sri Lanka between Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh. Of the 7 matches played, 6 matches including the final were won by the team batting second. In each of those matches, the team winning the toss had decided to bowl first. Another tri-series played down under between Australia, New Zealand and England saw 5 of the 7 matches being won by the team batting second.
Further, the warm-up match played by England against the Prime Minister’s XI was also won by England who had decided to field first. When the West Indies toured Pakistan for a series of 3 T20 matches, Pakistan won the series 3-0 by batting first in the first 2 matches and fielding first in the final match.
However, it could be argued that the resounding margin of victories (143 runs, 82 runs and 8 wickets) displayed a gulf in class between the two teams, and chances of Pakistan winning would’ve probably remained the same had they batted or fielded first. Sri Lanka toured Bangladesh for a two-match series in February, where they won the first match comfortably by 6 wickets, even though they were chasing a steep total of 194.
The second match was won by Sri Lanka as well, although in that match they had batted first. However, it would have been a big ask of Bangladesh to chase down a target of 211 that they had been set.
In the last five international Twenty 20 series that have been played, out of a total of 23 matches, only 8 have been won by the team batting first. An even stronger statistic is the proportion of teams that have elected to field first after winning the toss. Only 5 times had a toss-winning captain decided to turn to his batsmen instead of his bowlers to start proceedings.
These stats seem to suggest that teams have preferred to bowl first in a T20 match in recent times. One might argue that certain teams such as India would always prefer bowling first since they would feel more comfortable chasing having a player such as Kohli in their ranks. But Kohli was not a part of their squad in the Nidahas trophy where they had decided to bowl every time they won the toss.
Moreover, Australia, South Africa and England have also opted to field first in all the T20 matches they have played recently. There is a lot of uncertainty in properly estimating what a good score might be for the team batting first, as a quick-fire start from the other team in the powerplay overs might already take the tie away from them.
Case in point being the recent innings played by KL Rahul and Sunil Narine in the ongoing IPL. Teams might feel more at ease chasing so that they can plan in advance how to build their innings per the target. Teams might still choose to bat first if they feel conditions are more favourable for bowling later on but it seems like they’re more confident chasing down targets than setting one.