Dambulla: The Times of India has reported about the increasing role being played by the toss in day-night matches, and the advantage gained by the side batting in natural light, affecting one-day cricket's future prospects as a fair and viable format.
In a significant development, on the day India and New Zealand were playing out the first match of the ongoing tri-series, at a venue notorious for favouring teams batting first, split-innings one-day cricket made its debut in Australia in Darwin.
Tasmania beat South Australia by six wickets, with 8.3 overs to spare, in an experimental encounter with two 40-over innings played out over two halves. With administrators left fishing for such hit-and-trial innovations to boost the format's ratings, is it the best idea to stage so many day-night ODI matches, where factors like the toss and the lights invariably affect match outcomes and could lead to viewer apathy in future?
Dambulla's case is symptomatic of conditions in the subcontinent, and more worryingly, even an indicator of how day-night ODI matches worldwide are shaping up. Here, all three deciding factors of day-night games play an overwhelming role in deciding the result: the lights are not conducive for teams batting second, the high water table ensures more swing and bounce on the spongy surface in the evenings, and inevitably a whopping 69% of games have been won by the side winning the toss.
Not surprisingly, nearly 86% of the time, those winning the toss have batted here. The toss has started to play an increasing role in day-night ODIs, and batting first in places like the subcontinent naturally offers more advantage.
Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara told ToI on Wednesday, "Ideally, any sporting encounter should be a level-playing field, with each side having a 50-50 chance of pulling off a win. That's not the case in day-night matches here."
It's a no-brainer, then. In the subcontinent, you must bat first if you win the toss in a day-night game. Since January 2009, India and New Zealand have followed this formula and won 75% of their games, while Sri Lanka have won 60%.
Even if you don't win the toss at times in a day-night game, it's a distinct advantage if you find yourself batting first, not necessarily in the subcontinent only but worldwide: India have won 66.66% of games in which they have batted first since January 2009, the Lankans have won 58.33%, and Australia 57.69%. South Africa have won 100%. Only Pakistan and New Zealand have less than 50% wins in the games in which they have batted first: 45.45% each. Is it because of more weak links in their batting line ups over this period?
"The concept of day-night ODIs needs to be looked at," said Sangakkara. "It's not good to have the toss decide so many games, or whether you bat earlier or later. Ideally, personally speaking I would like to see only day matches or only night matches. But sponsors and broadcasters obviously feel day-night matches are the way to go, and we play according to the conditions and norms we are given. It's a concern since it's not a level-playing field at most times."
Scott Styris was critical about the lights in Dambulla even though his side pulled off an emphatic win while fielding last, while MS Dhoni, whose side went down in an abysmal batting display after he lost the toss, too sounded grumpy: "Somehow I have to start calling the toss right. I have toured Sri Lanka many times and the toss is very crucial over here because there's definitely a lot more assistance for seamers and spinners once the game progresses." India found that out the hard way on Tuesday, though all teams in with a chance too will be hoping the toss goes their way in the subcontinent early next year.