In the first half of the 2021 Pakistan Super League, an incredible statistic emerged: over the course of the first 13 games, every single team that batted second went on to win the game. In the final match before the league took a three-month hiatus, the Gladiators bucked the trend by batting first and winning, but nonetheless a 13-1 record in favour of the chasing team is significant to say the least. Perhaps this was just a coincidence or maybe the teams batting second were simply better, but such a stark contrast in performance requires further research to determine whether it can be used to gain an advantage when betting on the game’s shortest format.
Sticking with the PSL, the 2020 edition of the tournament told a similar tale, albeit in slightly less dramatic fashion. In that tournament, 22 teams batting second won, compared to just 9 batting first for an overall percentage of 71%. In 2019, the trend was similarly noticeable: in 24 of the 34 completed matches, the chasing side won, a percentage of 70.6%. Clearly the trend holds up in the PSL, but how does that compare to other leagues?
The IPL is the obvious one to compare, so we looked back at the last five full editions of that tournament. The graph below shows the win:loss record of every team batting second over the course of those five tournaments.
As you can see, in each of the past five seasons, the chasing team has won more games than they have lost. On some of these occasions this has been significant (39-21 in 2016, 35-22 in 2019) while on other occasions the difference has been a lot smaller. Nonetheless, over the course of five years the overall win:loss record of chasing teams sits at 167-124 (a win rate of 57.4%), demonstrating a definite advantage for teams batting second. It might not be as significant as the 13:1 ratio in the PSL so far this year, but over a five-year period a 57.4% win rate is pretty hefty.
And yet while this trend appears to have held in two of the bigger domestic T20 tournaments in the world, it hasn’t necessarily been the case at international level. As the graph below shows, since the beginning of T20Is just three of the nine most active T20 sides in world cricket have won at a higher percentage when chasing as opposed to when setting a target. For most teams, the difference is fairly minimal, suggesting batting or bowling first isn’t a major indicator of result – really it’s only India (10% higher win rate batting second) and New Zealand (16% higher win rate when batting first) who have shown a major propensity for one or the other.
It’s worth noting, however, that this includes data going way back to 2004, when the first ever T20I was played. Given the trends in the IPL and PSL are only relatively recent ones, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at more recent data to determine if international teams are developing an improved ability to chase, in much the same vein as we’ve seen in the domestic leagues.
As it turns out, it varies from team to team, but as the graph below shows, for a handful of them there has been a clear increase in performance when chasing in the last few years.
Clearly a number of teams are still hovering at around the same winning strike rate regardless of whether they set a total or chase, while New Zealand remain the anomaly of international cricket, showing a strong preference for batting first. India, England and Pakistan, however – incidentally three of the top four ranked T20I teams – have shown a marked improvement in their ability to chase down totals in the past three years.
So while it’s less pronounced at international level than it appears to be domestically, there is still a clear trend emerging that shows that most of the best teams in the world are becoming a lot better at chasing down a target than setting one.
Presumably the major reason for this is that teams are continually getting better at organising their innings based on the total they need to chase down. Theoretically, it should be easier to chase in the T20 game – you know exactly how many runs you need and can plan your strategy accordingly, and the domestic trend is indicative of this. It may not have been the case at international level previously, but as England, India and Pakistan are showing, if you want to be a top team you’re likely going to achieve it by regularly chasing down targets.
This trend provides the potential to get an edge over bookmakers. Of course, those savvy bookies are well aware of the benefits of chasing, and typically you’ll notice that odds change after the toss in the favour of whichever team is batting second. This change, however, is usually reasonably minimal. If it’s at a tournament like the PSL or IPL, where a huge edge has been shown to exist for chasing teams, or if the chasing team in a T20I is one of England, India and Pakistan, there’s every chance that this change in the odds won’t be enough, and it’s there that you can take advantage.