If you're playing Test cricket in the subcontinent and you win the toss, the prevailing wisdom is that you bat first. But what do teams choose to do in countries elsewhere? And are teams batting first more than they used to? We use data from over a thousand Test matches to answer these questions.
If we look at the countries where teams bat first most after winning the toss, India is on top. Of the 110 Test matches played in India from 1991 to 2016, teams winning the toss batted first in 101 matches, or 92%. What is surprising is seeing Australia in the top half with all the South Asian countries.
Of the 149 Test matches played from 1991 to 2016 in Australia, the team winning the toss decided to bat first in 110 of them, or 74%. Over the years, it seems pitches in Australia have become flatter and more batsman-friendly, and less bowler-friendly greentops. So it's started making sense for teams to bat first in Australia.
Looking at the win-loss records of teams winning the toss, we see that the toss hasn't been much of an advantage for teams playing in New Zealand. Of the 103 Test matches played in New Zealand from 1991 to 2016, teams that won the toss won just 32 Tests, or 31%. So what is it about playing Test cricket in New Zealand?
Cricket in New Zealand is often played in blustery, damp conditions on seaming, green pitches. These conditions last beyond the first day because of which the team bowling second also gets helped by the pitch before it flattens out. Because of this, the toss may not be as much of an advantage in New Zealand as it is elsewhere.
This chart looks at team strategies by finding out how often a team has batted first after winning the toss. Team choices over two 13-year periods are compared, viz. 1991-2003 and 2004-2016. In 2004-2016, the Australian team liked batting first so much that, out of every 10 matches where it won the toss, it batted first in around 9 of them.
Finally, we take a fun look at how often teams have won the toss over the past 26 years. We see Zimbabwe has been the luckiest team, winning the toss in 57% of its Test matches. This is probably a result of the fewer matches Zimbabwe has played—101—compared to others. The more you play, the closer your toss record gets to 50%.