Everyone Knows It’s Windies
If past results in the Caribbean are anything to go by, it is going to be a chaser’s World Cup. The formula looks simple: win the toss, put in the opposition, hope the white ball swings in the early overs after the 9.30am start, and then bat second, when conditions are at their friendliest and the task is known.
Batting first is rarely easy when logic says you should make a big score, and the small grounds of the West Indies do look invitingly small. But how much is a big score? In such circumstances, it is not difficult to overreach, and a hoped-for 300 for five becomes a scrappy 250 for nine. Figures show 57% of all one-day internationals are won by the team batting second, and the figure is higher in matches in the West Indies.
It’s remarkable how ripe cricket is for a sabermetric revolution. If, after two decades of ODIs, the data unequivocally shows that the team chasing a total is significantly more likely to win than the team that bats first, why do so many captains choose to bat after winning the toss? Because it looks like the pitch is going to deteriorate? Because they’re unaware that chasing is statistically the smart move? Because they think that they’re smarter than the numbers? I’m not saying that captains should blindly choose to field every time — but the fact that they choose to bat first well over 40% of the time, despite the odds strongly favoring the team batting second, tells us that there’s a market for Bill James to hire himself out as a consultant to the various cricket boards. I can envision the desi Theo Epstein now . . .
Anyway, this is all a longwinded way of getting to my original point, which is that Wilde — while dead on about the statistical bias in favor of chasing — is wrong when he says that the bias is stronger in the Windies. I crunched the numbers, and in the 144 ODIs played in the Windies that resulted in a winning team, the chasing team won 57.64% of the time. The numbers hold as true in the Windies as anywhere, which tells us something about how constant they are, and about how only a foolish captain would ignore them.
(I can’t get the table to format correctly– you can check out a Google spreadsheet detailing my research here.)
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