What Effect Does The Coin Toss Have On The Outcome Of A Test Match?

With the much-anticipated series between India and England just around the corner, TSZ are here to investigate whether the long standing tradition – the coin toss – has any bearing on the result of test matches between these two long time rivals. First of all, we will look at India's record in all test matches at each venue that will be used during the five-match series with England, with the exception of Rajkot and Visakhapatnam, as these stadiums will be hosting a test match for the first time.

Since first being used as a test venue in 1994, Mohali has not been a happy hunting ground for tourists, with just one solitary victory coming in twelve matches.

In relation to the coin toss, the team that won the toss has elected to bat 75% of the time, with an average first innings total of 361 compared to 326 when a team is sent in by the opposition. India has only once been sent in to bat first in Mohali, and whilst it seemed to be a stroke of genius by the Kiwis (India were bowled out for 83) the match still ended in a draw, proving just how hard India are to beat at home.

Looking at whether winning the toss has much of a statistical advantage on the result, we can see that historically there have been more wins (30.8%) for the team that wins the toss opposed to losses (23.1%).

Mumbai (Wankhede Stadium)
Although not quite as dominant here as in Mohali, the record still sways heavily for the home side, as they win 42%, lose 29% and draw 29% of their matches (all test matches since 1933).

It is clear that when teams win the toss here they bat first, with 88% of captains electing to set a total first up when the coin falls their way. When choosing to do so, all teams batting first have on average scored a first innings total of 338 compared to an average of 324 when teams are sent in to bat by the opposition.

Looking at the first innings run averages at Mumbai, batting or bowling first does not seem to impact greatly on the amount of runs scored in the first innings of a test match, no matter who bats first when facing India.

When we look at the impact winning the toss has on the match result in Mumbai, we can see that there is very little impact, with just a 2% advantage for the team that wins the toss at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.

Chennai has long been considered spinners paradise, which most would assume would play right into India’s hands. From what we can see below, although the chances of India losing are not high, the chance of a drawn match is just as likely as an Indian victory.

Due to the nature of the pitch at Chennai, it is not surprising that out of 41 tests the toss winning skipper has elected to bowl just once. The only time this occurred was when England opted to bowl first against India back in 1982, a match that ended in a draw.

When looking at the impact of the coin toss on batting performance, once again we see no considerable difference in the amount of runs scored in the differing scenarios. We say this, because there has only been one instance where India was sent in to bat. Although this yielded 481 runs, it is unfair to consider this to be any advantage from a statistical point of view (note: India has never been sent in to bat by the opposition at Chennai)

Winning the toss at Chennai seems to be more of an advantage than at other Indian venues. Historically more matches have been won (37.5%) by the team who won the toss than any other result, a stark difference to the previously analysed venues that will be used for the upcoming series.

India vs England
Finally, we take a historic look at how team have fared against each other in India and how they have utilised the coin toss; does it have any bearing on the result of a match or the number of runs scored?

India and England have faced each other on Indian soil 55 times (India 15 wins, England 13 wins, 27 draws), with England calling the correct side of the coin in just 22 of those matches. Of these 55 matches, the team winning the toss has then elected to bat on 50 occasions (91%). Of the five occasions when a team elected to bowl first, three of these were India and two were England.

When winning the toss however, the team who gets the choice whether to bat or bowl first has gone on to lose more matches than they win. This is a somewhat surprising result considering the amount of coin tosses India have won on home soil against the English cricket team.

Looking at how each team fares when electing to bat first in India, there is a relatively small difference in the average amount of runs scored in the first innings after electing to bat, with just a six-run advantage to the home side.

Now we observe how the amount of runs scored in the first innings by the team batting first, impacts on the likelihood of a win. All matches between these two teams in India have been analysed and from this we can determine that there does not seem to be much of a winning advantage for the team batting first unless they score over 350 runs. What is quite surprising however, is that the history between these two teams suggest that a team scoring 200 batting first is just as likely to win a match (if not more so) than a team scoring near 300!

What is important to note, is that a winning rate of (for example) 28%, does not mean a losing rate of 72%. When India comes up against England at home, historically there have been a large amount of draws (49%) so a win rate of 28% is actually quite high.

For our final statistical analyses of the test history between these two teams in India, we take a look at the highest first innings run total scored by the losing team, and the lowest first innings run total scored by the eventual winning team. Both figures just take into account the run total scored by the team who batted first.

Back in 1981, India set the lowly first innings total of 179 in Mumbai, but then went on to bowl England out for just 166. Chasing 240 in the fourth innings, England was bowled out for a mere 102, handing the home side a famous victory.
Even more shocking for England was a horrendous loss in 1993 (also in Mumbai). After scoring a healthy 347 in the first innings, India then piled on a mammoth 591. As it turned out India did not need to bat again after dismissing England for 229 and sealed a crushing win.

From what we have seen throughout this analysis, a high majority of teams elect to bat first when playing in India, but winning the coin toss itself does not seem to positively impact results. The venue to be used in this series where winning the coin toss has had the most positive impact is Chennai, where the fifth and final test will be played. Although Chennai has a positive toss win: match win ratio, history between these two teams suggests that aside from a draw, a team is more likely to lose a match when the coin toss is won. Finally, we confirmed that getting off to a good start is imperative to success. If batting first, a score of over 350 has never yielded a loss.