Why is the coin toss such an essential part of cricket? What are the benefits for the team who win the toss today? In this article, we go deeper into the subject than any online source has done before.
You will find out how the outcome of the coin toss is directly related to the Match Winner prediction.
By looking at the data we have complied from the last IPL season, you can see which teams win the toss more often than they statistically should, and what teams prefer to do when they win the toss.
With these assumptions, we can use that data to make predictions on the match itself.
Half an hour before every cricket match, the two team captains meet on the pitch and exchange team selection sheets.
The home captain then has the right to toss the coin with each side assigned either heads or tails. The away captain typically chooses which side of the coin they want. Then the captain who wins the toss decides whether their team will bat or bowl.
Is it possible to predict the outcome of the cricket toss? There are only two options, so the chances are 50%, but the upcoming data shows interesting results.
As serious bettors, we are not so interested in the toss itself, but rather what IPL captains do if they win the toss.
Namely, will the team captain choose to bat or bowl, and how can we use that information to help our cricket match prediction.
The best cricket odds models should incorporate toss prediction models. The result of the toss conveys crucial information for professional cricket bettors. It can allow us to change our betting strategy for the match depending on the outcome of the toss.
If you can find out data relating to how team captains typically act if they win the toss, this can give you a betting advantage.
The best captains will adapt their strategy depending on various match factors, so let's examine the process by looking at components in choosing whether to bat or bowl:
This is the first time captains have seen their opponent's line-ups and how the team is composed should have a big decision on whether to bat or bowl.
Cricket strategy usually dictates if the rivals have selected a strong bowling team, then a better decision may be to bat first and hope the pitch deteriorates.
If the pitch feels wet, then it may be advantageous to bowl first and use the conditions to your advantage.
But perhaps some teams overwhelmingly make the same decision on whether to bat or bowl, regardless of what conditions are. We will find out.
This is a random occurrence with each captain having an equal 50% chance of choosing correctly.
But again, popular theory is that the winning captain must push home their advantage and choose the 'right' course of action. But is there a 'right' course of action, or is winning the toss itself enough of an advantage?
With the data we have collected, you can see how some captains have a much better record winning the toss than their rivals.
Here we dig into the data from the 2019 IPL fixtures and look at home the coin toss win percentage varies massively from captain to captain. Remember, the probability, should on average be 50%, for each captain.
Toss Winner Percentage
Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians)
MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings)
Shreyas Iyer (Delhi Capitals)
David Varner (Sunrises Hyderabad)
K L Rahul (Kings XI Punjab)
Steve Smith (Rajasthan Royals)
Dinesh Karthik (Kolkata Knight Riders)
Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
As you can see, some teams have a significant edge at the coin toss than others. Rohit Sharma wins on average four out of every five tosses, while superstar Virat Kohli wins less than one in five!
Now for the disclaimers. Of course, this data has drawbacks. Even though it's over a full IPL season, it's still statistically speaking a small sample size with 17 match tosses the most a captain can participate in - some teams will only play 14 games.
Ideally, we would want at least 10 years of data to account for anomalies and blips, but it is interesting all the same.
Secondly, winning the toss does not guarantee the captain's team will go on and win the match.
But now we will take the data one step further and try and find out whether the typical strategy in the IPL has been to bat or bowl first.
Most cricket fans agree that teams generally prefer to bat first, seeing it as an advantage, but do the stats back up that assumption? Or is it a myth?
From the 2019 season, teams who won the toss only chose to bat first in 22.5% of the games - less than one in four. That figure is far lower than most of us would reasonably expect.
Here are how some big teams make their decisions:
Chose to bowl percentage
Kolkata Knight Riders
Kings XI Punjab
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Chennai Super Kings
Our data shows us that the majority of teams choose to bowl first - we have just published data for the six teams with the highest percentage in choosing to bowl first.
Why is this? We can guess that in the quickfire T20 format, there is a comfort in batting second in that you know the exact number of runs you need to win. Batting first can be viewed as a negative as the team's total becomes a target to hunt down.
But whether there is much of an advantage in IPL teams batting first or second is debatable. Certainly, previous analysis shows there is little statistical evidence that it makes a difference either way whether a team bats first or second.
A separate international T20 study, showed a slight advantage for the team batting second in a night game, but in a day-night game (where the team first team bats with some natural light) the team that bats first wins 60% of the time. In a day game, there is no real difference.
However, what we can assume is that winning the toss and getting to choose gives a psychological advantage. And in elite sport, any advantage, no matter how small, is worth something.
How can we apply our data on what captains do when they win the toss to betting then?
Well, if the bookies set up a market on 'who will bat first?', we could reasonably assume the prices to be close to this: Team A 10/11 (1.90) and Team B 10/11 (1.90).
The real odds would be 1/1 (2.00) for each team, but bookmakers will always have their margin.
So, if you ever got the chance to bet on a match with Chennai Super Kings involved, the smart bet would be to bet on their rivals in the 'who will bat first?' market.
Not only do Super Kings elect to bowl 75% of the time, their captain MS Dhoni wins 75% of his tosses. Therefore we can claim positive expected value - Dhoni is very likely to win the toss and to elect to bowl first, meaning the price on their rival's to bat first should be much shorter than the hypothetical 10/11 (1.90).
We can take this further. Now we have a rough idea of how leading captains fare not only in the toss but also in their choice of what action to take, let's create a method of applying it to match predictions.
Cricket traders are on record (Sports Spread Betting: An Insider's Guide By Daniel Townend) as saying top-class matches are getting harder and harder to price up until they know who has won the toss.
Bookmakers see it as a significant pointer in setting the odds to know which team will bat or bowl first, and by extension they see the team winning the toss as gaining a benefit.
Previous studies on the influence of winning the toss showed a small improvement in the winning chances of a team, although it was based on Test cricket and ODI matches.
So, if we can second guess which team will win the toss, then we will have an advantage over the bookmakers in securing a better price than we should have got.
Let us use Mumbai Indians as an example. We know Rohit Sharma won 80% of his tosses during the 2019 season.
If we subscribe to the view that cricket traders are shortening the price of the team that wins the toss immediately after the news is made public, then we can reasonably expect Mumbai Indians to be underpriced much of the time.
If Sharma wins 80% of tosses, are the bookies forced to shorten the price on Mumbai Indians 80% of the time? Maybe not, as this was an emerging trend, so perhaps the figure is not so high. But there is certainly an argument that there is a betting edge here.
And we can apply it to other teams too. Virat Kohli is a great cricketer, but his toss win rate is amazingly low. Again, there may be opportunities where Royal Challengers Bangalore are a 'bad price'.
Not only do the team start favourites more often than their overall record probably entitles them to, but their opponents got the advantage of making the decision over 80% of the time in the 2019 season.
Another edge we can take is by working out when we think the optimal time to bat or bowl is. We can do this by considering the likely team line-ups, the weather conditions, the pitch size, and the wicket condition. Previous head-to-head records and other match and team stats can also help paint a picture.
IPL matches often start late at night and a benefit of batting second is that the ball collects more dew the later the game goes on at some venues. The moisture results in a poorer grip for the bowlers and therefore more bad deliveries that a batsman can hit.
Consequently, if we calculate that batting second may be the best option, then matches involving any of these four teams will be of significant interest: Sunrises Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders, Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Each side chose to bowl first in 80% of their 2019 matches.
Betting on cricket, or more accurately, winning money betting on cricket, is all about finding an edge, no matter how tiny.
If we can make reasonable predictions using data, we can gain a small advantage over bookmakers who may not have this data, and thus we can produce superior match predictions.
We know two key things. Firstly, winning the toss is important, and teams that win the toss do seem to have a small advantage regardless of what decision their captain makes.
Secondly, bookmakers agree with this and have stated they adjust prices depending on which team wins the toss.
Naturally, if we can predict which team will win the toss, we may be able to get a better price on the side than the odds that will be available immediately after the toss.
And for whatever reason, some captains have an extraordinary record of winning the toss. We should be cautious in using this data to make broad assertions or firm predictions, but it is still noteworthy to consider it.
What is extremely interesting and useful is the captains of IPL teams that choose to bowl first up to 80% of the time. If we' confident in assessing pre-game whether there is an advantage in batting first or second, we can second guess the captains - particularly those with a strong record in always bowling first - and try and secure an edge betting.
It will be interesting to see how the toss data stands up during the delayed and under threat 2020 IPL season.
We would advise bettors to make a note of who won the toss and what the captain chose to do throughout the season as part of their cricket betting research.