The toss has become very important in the modern game. Winning an away match against a strong side after losing the flip of the coin is becoming more and more difficult. The Indian performance in the past three tours have been exceptional in this regard…..

Three incredibly difficult tours. South Africa, England and Australia. During the course of a year and a bit.

India played 12 Tests, won 4, lost 7 and the final one was washed out by rain. They did have that one in the bag, though. Australia were following on, they were as good as down on their knees. And then the skies opened up to provide some relief.

1-2 in South Africa, with they lost two close Tests. 1-4 in England with three of the lost Tests that could go either way. And now 2-1 in Australia, with the remaining Test denied them because of the weather.

Of course, in between they did stroll through the other three Tests played in their own backyard.

There are individual likes and dislikes, the looming shadow of past heroes still dominate psyches,  rosy retrospection and the gold dust that settles out of thin air on hazy recollections and all that. Debates will, therefore, rage about the quality of this team vis-à-vis some of the side of the past. Hence, we are not going to discuss the claim whether or not this Indian team is the best ever.

I can only say that no Indian side in my recollection of the cricket I have watched, and in my analysis of the records of the past, has created so many chances to win in these difficult lands, and have ended up converting more than a few of them. And of course, history will tell us that this is the first Indian side to win a series in Australia.

With that South Africa remains the only unconquered frontier.

Without going into an objective analysis, although that is possible, I can also add that the Indian pace bowling unit is by far the very best ever produced by this nation. And besides, the level of fitness of this entire team is several notches higher than any in the history of Indian cricket.

Also read: Time for Australia to address the real issues

There is, however, something that Virat Kohli said about the team’s performance in the post-match press conference that underlines the spirit and the fight demonstrated by the side. The bit about performance in the Test matches in which the captain lost the toss. That, in my opinion, needs specific elaboration.

If we consider all the Tests that have been played since the beginning of 2018, we find the sides winning the toss have won 33 of them. 7 have been drawn, and just 11 have been won by the side losing the toss.

The toss factor in Test cricket have become extremely important.

If we consider only away matches, there have been just 4 victories and 24 losses by the visiting sides after losing the toss, other than 4 draws. And two of the victories were against weak or infant sides that generally end up skewing inferences (Sri Lanka won at Bridgetown and Pakistan at Dublin).

If we take only the non-trivial sides in world cricket (excluding West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan),  the visiting side lost the toss in 20 Tests. Of these, they won 2, drew 3 and lost 15 of those Tests.

Visiting teams after losing the toss since January 2018

(involving Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka)

Played Won Lost Drawn
20 2 15 3

Apart from Pakistan beating England at Lord’s and India trouncing the same side at Nottingham, none of the other away matches have resulted in wins against tough oppositions.

3 of those 15 defeats have been registered by an innings, 5 by margins over 200 runs, one by a 9-wicket difference.

Winning after losing the toss in unfamiliar conditions has really been the most difficult milestone to achieve in the past year.

India lost the toss in 8 of the 12 Tests they played away from home.

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In the 4 they were lucky with the flip of the coin, they won 3 and the last one was washed away by rain. They beat South Africa by 63 runs in Johannesburg, Australia by 31 in Adelaide, again Australia by 137 runs at Melbourne and finally asked the Aussies to follow on for the first time since 1988 in the final Test at Sydney.

In the 8 tosses they lost, they perhaps benefitted with Joe Root asking them to take first strike at Nottingham. They thrashed England by 203 runs in that outing.

Apart from that they lost the other 7 Tests. But, they had several chances of winning in at least 5 others. Serious ones at Cape Town (lost by 73 runs), Edgbaston (31 runs), Southampton (60 runs) and also to some extent at The Oval (118 runs) and Perth (146 runs).

India abroad since January 2018

Toss Played Won Loss Drawn
Won the toss 4 3 0 1
Lost the toss 8 1 7 0

 

In short, they outplayed the opposition comfortably in three of the four Tests they won the toss in the three gruelling tours, and managed to win even after Australia came close on the other occasion.

In 5 of the 7 times they lost the toss, they looked like winning at least at some juncture, and did manage to win one of the Tests as well.

Only at Lord’s was the match totally one-sided. They competed well enough at Centurion before losing their way completely in the second essay.

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So, the toss-tales lead us to two inferences and one burning question.

  1. India has competed surprisingly well through the last year, across the three difficult tours, even against overwhelming odds.
  2. The Indians were rather unlucky with the toss, winning just 4 out of 12.

And thereby the question:

What would have transpired if India had won more tosses? Say half or two-thirds rather than the measly 33.33% they managed to win?

We will perhaps not be able to answer that.

However, there are some particulars that we will do well to take note of.

This Indian team has not only competed in every possible situation, but they have also done more. If they have been handed an advantage, for example, a correct call at toss, they have driven it home.

When Virat Kohli has led India, they have won the toss on 22 occasions. They have won 18, and drawn the other 4.

Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Clive Lloyd have won more when they have been captains, but none of them managed such a clean slate. Only Don Bradman with 9 wins and a draw in 10 Tests is comparable.

Captains with Win/Loss ratio of 3 or more in Tests with Toss wins (min 10 Tests)

Captain T W L D W/L
V Kohli 22 18 0 4
DG Bradman 10 9 0 1
F du Plessis 15 11 1 3 11
KS Williamson 11 8 1 2 8
MC Cowdrey 17 5 1 11 5
CH Lloyd 35 20 4 11 5
MP Vaughan 23 13 3 7 4.33
WJ Cronje 22 12 3 7 4
MJK Smith 10 4 1 5 4
SPD Smith 15 8 2 5 4
JM Brearley 13 7 2 4 3.50
IVA Richards 23 10 3 10 3.33
SR Waugh 31 23 7 1 3.29
PBH May 26 13 4 9 3.25
RT Ponting 37 25 8 4 3.13
R Benaud 11 6 2 3 3
AL Hassett 18 9 3 6 3
Javed Miandad 12 6 2 4 3
Mushtaq Mohammad 10 3 1 6 3

That is probably the key difference between Indian sides of the past and this one.

They compete even when the odds are overwhelmingly against them, believing fully well that they can win under any circumstances. And given one bit of opportunity, this team does not let it go.

They captialise on it and make it count.

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