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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Toss time: Let the chase begin

Pitches, ground dimensions and dew make batting second a big advantage in T20s in the subcontinent.

Written by Vishal Menon |
Updated: March 18, 2021 3:19:24 pm
india vs englandIndia will take on England in the fourth T20I today. (BCCI TV)

The toss seems to be having a disproportionate influence on the outcome of T20 matches played in the subcontinent in recent times. Captains winning the toss are usually choosing to bat second, and are ending up winning a significantly higher number of games.

Sample this. In the recent Pakistan Super League before it was suspended, 13 out of the 14 matches were won by teams who won the toss and decided to chase. The 2019 Indian Premier League – the 2020 edition was played in the United Arab Emirates – saw 35 of 57 games (61.4%) going to teams bowling first. This narrative has now played out in the first three matches of the ongoing T20 series between India and England as well. Win the toss, bowl first and win the match seems to be the mantra for success in the subcontinent.

Consequently, Dinesh Karthik believes that the toss has become a crucial factor in determining the outcome of matches in India. “I think both captains (Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli), in spite of the batting, need to practise a lot about winning tosses. I think that’s going to be a critical factor,” the wicketkeeper-batsman said on Sky Sports. Former England captain Michael Vaughan came up with this amusing tweet: “So it looks like the T20 World Cup in India could be won by the best Tosser !!!!”

Former Pakistan wicketkeeper Rashid Latif insists that the reverse is generally true in some other parts of the world. “In England and New Zealand, T20Is are played on much smaller grounds and teams don’t mind batting first because they back themselves to register scores in excess of 200, which puts pressure on teams chasing,” he said during a chat with Nauman Niaz on YouTube channel Caught Behind.

KL Rahul has not being amongst the runs. (BCCI)

Steady start

But with the T20 World Cup scheduled in India later this year, how can teams win while batting first in these conditions? Is there a template for success?

According to Latif, teams batting first in the subcontinent struggle because they get carried away in the Powerplay. “Batsmen need to approach it in a slightly conservative fashion. They should look to conserve wickets and not worry about playing dot balls. What they ought to do is increase the percentage of boundaries,” he suggested.

Not knowing the par score at a particular venue is another vexing issue for teams. Morgan had spoken about the difficulty and inherent lack of clarity in figuring out what would be a match-winning first-innings score.

Prasanna Agoram, the former analyst with the South African team, provided his take. “We need to understand what is an average first-innings winning/defending score at a particular venue. Understanding the nature of the pitch and conditions on offer is paramount. It’s all about the skill that matters, strategy and amount of knowledge you derive from the venue’s conditions. The stats for which teams need to do research based on the last 20 games played. Only then will you get an idea during which phase of the game it gets difficult to bat,” he told The Indian Express.

At times, however, even these indicators may not be enough. India’s score of 192/2 against West Indies in the 2016 World T20 semi-final in Mumbai proved to be quite inadequate. Or when a team, in a frenetic attempt to score in excess of 200, ends up getting just around 140.

Morgan was in a similar dilemma during the second T20I against India at Motera. Taking first strike on a slow, sluggish surface, England posted 164/6 — a score the England skipper conceded was par. “We were probably in and around par, but India bowled well and there’s slightly less pace today on the pitch,” he said after their 7-wicket loss.

England ought to have scored much more, as they were well placed at 83/2 at the half-way stage. But their batsmen failed to come to grips with the slowness of the pitch, even as they tried to slog their way out in the last five overs — garnering only 35 runs — against India’s seamers.

Agoram reckoned England were a good 15 runs short of a match-winning score. “Taking into consideration the nature of the pitch and conditions on offer, 178-182 would have been a defendable score in Ahmedabad,” he said.

Not having the clarity on an average first-innings score is one of the factors prompting teams to bat second on a regular basis in T20Is.

“There’s absolute clarity about the score you need to win a match. You know how the wicket is playing. So even if it’s over 200, teams back their big hitters to get them past the finish line. This is why teams are preferring to chase,” former India opener Wasim Jaffer weighed in.

Former England player Rob Key wants Morgan to win the toss and bat first in at least one of the last two matches against India — a move he felt would put the 50-over world champions in a better frame of mind ahead of the showpiece ICC event later in the year. “I would like to see this team bat first and try and defend it in these conditions. Then I think you know exactly where you are at,” Key said on Sky Sports.

ind vs eng 3rd t20i Virat Kohli cuts a lonely figure on way to his unbeaten 77* vs England in the 3rd T20I. (AP Photo)

Dew factor

Since the T20 World Cup is scheduled in October-November, during the early onset of winter, dew could also be a factor prompting captains to bowl first. Agoram said the timing of the match will also be crucial. “The dew becomes effective and makes the ball heavy at around 8pm. So, if it’s a 7pm start, the team batting first might get the advantage only in the last 30 minutes — six to seven overs — of their innings. However, when the second team comes out to bat (around 9pm), their batsmen will clearly have a distinct advantage from the start,” he concluded.

The dew affects proceedings in two ways. In the worst-case scenario, it makes the ball wet and bowlers’ hands slippery which affects their grip. Spinners struggle to rip the ball and pacers struggle to bowl yorkers or cut the ball around; they then resort to holding the ball cross-seam which allows better grip but not much swing or seam.

Also, even when the dew isn’t too heavy, as seen in the second game that India won, it neutralises the vagaries of the pitch. The ball was holding and stopping in the track when England batted. But the little bit of dew under lights adds a sheen of sorts on the pitch that helps it hold together better. The ball, as seen in the Indian chase and as admitted by India captain Virat Kohli, comes on to the bat better, allowing for better shot-making. The batsmen need not be wary about whether the ball will stick on the pitch and don’t have to tweak their bat swings. Instead, they can trust the pace and play freely; they don’t have to adjust to post-landing changes in pace and bounce seen in the first innings.

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