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T20 World Cup 2021

How the toss defined the T20 World Cup

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 6 minute read

It might seem like a case of sour grapes, the writer being lifelong follower of Indian cricket, but with the clamour being backed with facts, one cannot escape the harsh truth — the toss did play into Australia’s hands in the T20 World Cup.  Sarah Waris, rueing her team’s luck, or the lack of it, writes.

When Bharat Arun went into a lengthy discussion about the importance of the toss at the T20 World Cup, it was deemed an easy excuse for India’s early exit. The team hadn’t really arrived at the tournament, looking fatigued and drained, which was made worse by a schedule that gave them the two strongest opponents in the group upfront. Virat Kohli has — and this is putting it lightly — a terrible record of winning tosses, and losing two in a row, against Pakistan and New Zealand, did little for the team’s chances, which was Arun’s argument. However, one could state, cricket is all about looking past the factors that are uncontrollable and excelling in departments within one’s hands. Arun’s statement, thus, was criticised for its arbitrariness, for if you played well you would have won.



Right. T20Is’ overall record suggests that — teams winning the toss have won 49.78 per cent of matches in men’s T20Is; there was no clear pattern to suggest the format was inclined to batting first or chasing. Sure, teams have their preferences and are usually guided by a set template to get over the line, but almost always, it boils down to ignoring the uncontrollables to play fine cricket throughout the full quota of overs.

And so, teams entered the T20 World Cup with their own flaws and strengths, only to find out they were fighting an unexpected rival: the toss. Yeah, yeah ‘ignore the uncontrollables and focus on doing your best’ but what happens when that long-held belief is challenged and when the very same uncontrollables define your progress? It’s life, you’d probably say. Sports, a mere reflection of the macrocosm, also abides by the same principles. Sometimes, it’s never about how much you want things, it’s about if things are meant for you.

Australia, the surprise winners, are just a case in point. Entering the competition with five successive series losses with a team that had not played together for various reasons in over a year, and a side, who, on paper, looked mediocre at best, they were marshalled by Aaron Finch to perfection as they lifted their first-ever T20 world trophy. There was the fairytale comeback of David Warner, the unearthing of Mitchell Marsh and the underestimated performer in Adam Zampa. There was Matthew Wade’s homecoming and the emergence of Josh Hazlewood in an unknown format along with Marcus Stoinis’ brute power in pressure moments. There was all of that and more, but there was also the toss.

Australia won six of their seven games in the competition, winning all matches whenever they won the toss. They batted second in all six instances. On the only occasion Australia lost the toss and were sent in to bat first, they struggled to 125 against Eoin Morgan’s side for their only defeat.

It’s not just a spooky coincidence, though. The whole tournament panned out eerily similarly, with teams winning 30 of the 45 games after having the toss go in their favour. 29 matches were won by the side chasing, and 23 times out of 32 a team won after winning the toss and batting second. In Dubai, this was even more lopsided, with the toss playing an even bigger big role — the chasing side won 12 of the 13 games, with New Zealand being the only side to win batting first, against Scotland.

The earlier start time for night matches, to facilitate more viewers from the subcontinent to tune in, saw the first innings being played under searing heat and on a drier wicket more often than not. With the IPL being held in the UAE as well, most tracks were burnt out, which meant that high scores were few and far between. Only once did a team make over 200 in the event, with a score of 170-plus being registered a total of 12 times. Overall, only in 22 matches did a team make 150-plus, which proved to be inadequate as the sides chasing were aided by heavy dew.

While the team batting first often struggled for momentum upfront on slower wickets, with the top seven batters from all teams striking at only 115.67 in 45 games, the run rate saw a boost in the second half of games. The top seven struck at close to 120 in the second innings during the competition. That it was relatively easier to bat second can be evidenced by the fact that a target of more than 150 was chased down in 19 overs or fewer eight out of 11 times.

The bowlers too paid the price. Three out of five top wicket-takers of the tournament were spinners, with Wanindu Hasaranga, Adam Zampa and Shakib Al Hasan picking up a combined 40 scalps throughout the tournament. Overall, the spinners, bowling first, without the presence of dew picked up 94 wickets in the T20 World Cup, at an average of 21.38 and an economy rate of 6.51, which neared seven in the second innings. The quicks averaged 21.73 and picked up 190 wickets at an economy rate of 7.45 in the first innings, which crept up to 31.94 at an economy rate of almost eight in the second innings.

Batting first and setting a target proved to be tricky in the knockouts, with England, Pakistan, and New Zealand all starting off slowly in the semis and finals, respectively, before they could unleash themselves in the death overs. In a format where the powerplays can make or break a team’s chances, batting under pressure upfront in conditions that were not the easiest proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

The Law of Averages spared Australia, as they won yet another crucial toss in the summit clash, and though they do deserve applause for the way they fought back when no one gave them a chance, it’s not unfair for teams that missed out to think of the what-ifs. The T20 World Cup was not just a battle of wits and skills, but then, that’s how it is sometimes.

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