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Who gives a toss? Part 2: When sending Australia in backfired spectacularly

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Roar Guru
24th September, 2021

‘Thanks champ, we’ll have a bowl.’

The toss-winning captain then theatrically rotates an arm while walking off the field, prompting his teammates in the change room to swap warm-up gear for creams.

Part 1 listed the occasions when Australia was sent in to bat and struggled early, yet recovered to win the match. Part 2 will list the occasions when a decision to insert Australia backfired immediately and spectacularly.

Choosing to field first can be an attacking, defensive or delaying option. If your team boasts a pace quartet, fielding can make best use of them. If your team has to face one, ideally it won’t do so in a match’s first session. If your team is weak, it can be easier to let the other side make the running.

Inviting the other team to bat can also be an act of hope rather than expectation. Sometimes a captain imagines that a pitch’s tinge of green or touch of moisture is a compelling reason to field. Or that low cloud or high humidity might benefit his side’s new-ball bowlers.

During the 2000s opposing skippers regularly chose bowling to Australia in preference to facing Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee immediately. As a result they instead faced Shane Warne or Stuart MacGill in a fourth innings. The tactic almost never led to victory.

Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne leave the MCG

(Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Across that decade the side was sent in 16 times, and recorded ten wins and just one defeat. Its victory over Zimbabwe at the WACA in 2003-04, when Matthew Hayden scored 380, is but one of many examples.

Sometimes a toss proves to have been a good one to lose. As a visiting captain will call correctly just 50 per cent of the time on average, it’s advantageous for it to occur when conditions most favour either bowling or batting.


But even then, the skipper and his side must be good enough to exploit their pre-match luck. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe have inserted Australia a collective total of 28 times, for just a single win. England’s record is six wins and 18 defeats.

Local knowledge, and control over ground preparation, play a large part in being successful after being sent in. At home Australia has won 38 times and suffered just eight defeats. In nine such instances at the SCG, it has never lost. In contrast, when sent in overseas its 14 wins are outnumbered by 15 losses.

These are the occasions when a captain has paid an especially high price for inviting Australia to bat.

Australia versus practically everyone, 2001-2005
During this period Australia proved almost-unbeatable when sent in. It’s likely that inserting the side was often a defensive measure even in good batting conditions.

The side boasted a record of six wins, four draws and just one defeat when invited to bat first. Dominant opening-day performances were a feature of those games. They included three double-century stands between Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, and one between Hayden and Ricky Ponting.

Hayden and Langer produced a Bradman-esque career average stand of 99.90 in first innings after being sent in. Their individual averages were an outstanding 76.62 and 73.28 respectively.

Justin Langer and Matt Hayden

(Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

At the Gabba in 2001-02, visiting New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming called correctly and chose to field. Hayden and Langer added 224 runs in 62.4 overs, and their side went to stumps at 6-294 before declaring at 9-486. Rain and a benign pitch ensured that the match was subsequently drawn.


In Hobart just a fortnight later, Fleming tried the same tactic. This time Hayden and Langer combined for a 223-run opening stand, to which Ricky Ponting added an undefeated 157. Australia reached 6-411 by stumps, and ultimately closed at 8-558. Again, the game was drawn.

In the Gabba’s next Test match, the opening game of 2002-03, England’s Nasser Hussain called truly and sent Australia in. Simon Jones delivered just seven overs before injury ended his tour.

Hayden scored 197, and he and Ponting added 272 runs for the second wicket. Their side went to stumps at 2-364, and ultimately won the game by 384 runs.

At the end of the same summer, Steve Waugh called incorrectly in Bridgetown and his team was invited to bat first. It reached 3-320 by stumps, and declared the following day at 9-605. Ponting and Waugh scored centuries, and Darren Lehmann contributed 96. The side duly completed a comfortable nine-wicket victory.

The 2003-04 home season began with a tour by Zimbabwe. At the WACA in the series’ first game, captain Heath Streak won the toss and elected to field. It would prove to be the high point of his game. The home side reached 3-373 by stumps, and eventually declared at 6-735.

Hayden helped himself to 380 runs from 437 deliveries including 11 sixes. Adam Gilchrist commenced his innings at 5-502 and scored 113 from 94 balls.

Adam Gilchrist celebrates reaching his century

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Streak, Andy Blignaut and Ray Price had collective figures of 0-433. Australia’s victory margin was an innings and 175 runs.


The following winter included a home series against Sri Lanka. In Cairns, its second and final match commenced with captain Marvin Atapattu calling correctly and asking the home team to bat.

Hayden and Langer responded with a 255-run opening stand, and at stumps their side’s score was 2-370. Australia scored 517, but the visitors resisted well to reply with 455 and ultimately force a draw. Hayden scored a pair of centuries.

During this period there were five other occasions when Australia was sent in to bat. In those games its first-day scores were 315, 2-262, 207, 8-357 and 5-337. It lost only the first of them, in Durban in 2001-02.

Australia versus England, the Gabba, 1954-55 
It was the first day of an Ashes series. The visiting team held the trophy. Captain Leonard Hutton was the first professional cricketer to lead England. His team boasted pacemen Frank Tyson and Brian Statham but no spinner. He wrote:

“As I have no slow bowling, my only hope of winning is to get Australia out cheaply while the wicket is new and then try for a long lead. So, with some misgivings, I am going to do what no-one but the oldest can remember a captain doing before in a Test match in Australia and put them in to bat.”

It was the first time since Charlie Macartney’s match in 1926 that any captain had sent in Australia. The home side went to lunch at 1-56 and tea at 2-138. By stumps it had reached 2-208 in five hours’ play.

On the match’s second day Morris and Harvey extended their third-wicket partnership to 202 runs, and their individual scores to 153 and 162 respectively. Australia ended it on 6-503. It continued batting into the following morning, before finally closing its innings at 8-601.

England could score only 190 and 257 in reply, to suffer a humiliating defeat by an innings and 154 runs. However it improved subsequently and ‘Typhoon’ Tyson spearheaded a 3-1 series victory.

Generic Ashes urn

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

England versus Australia, Headingley, 1926 
Australia held the Ashes, and the series’ first two games had been drawn. The match’s pitch had to be changed at short notice, after rain left the ground under water.

Acting captain Warren Bardsley called incorrectly, and his team was invited to bat on a soft pitch. Unfortunately he then fell to the match’s opening delivery, caught at first slip.

That dismissal brought Charlie Macartney to the crease. From the fifth ball of the same over, he was dropped by England captain Donald Carr. Thereafter he took the attack to England. The Wisden Almanack’s match report stated:

“Going for the bowling at once, he was soon complete master of the situation generally and of Macaulay in particular. Driving, cutting and placing to leg superbly, he accomplished the remarkable feat of scoring a hundred before lunch – a performance previously achieved in a Test match only by Victor Trumper.

“His footwork was perfect and his off-driving magnificent. To such an extent did he overshadow Woodfull that he made 51 out of 64 and 100 out of 131 with never a false stroke – bar that at the start – until he skyed a short pitched ball to mid-off.”

At the luncheon interval, Australia’s score was 1-153. Macartney’s share was a magnificent 112 from just 151 deliveries. He was eventually dismissed for 151 from 206 balls, after adding 235 in 170 minutes with Bill Woodfull.

Australia went to tea at 3-321, then stumps at 3-366 shortly after when rain ended play. It subsequently totalled 494, then dismissed the home side for 294 and enforced the follow-on. However lost playing time and England’s second-innings resistance ensured another drawn match.

England versus Australia, the Oval, 2015 
The home side led the series by a 3-1 margin, so had already regained the Ashes. Australia was playing just for pride. Captain Michael Clarke called incorrectly, and his team was inserted.


Chris Rogers and David Warner began confidently, and went to lunch at 0-82. After their 110-run opening partnership was broken, Warner and Steve Smith added a further 151 runs. Their team reached 2-184 by tea, and 3-287 by stumps.

David Warner during Day One of the first Ashes Test.

(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Australia totalled 481 the following day. It subsequently dismissed England for just 149 and 286 in reply, to claim an emphatic victory by an innings and 46 runs.

Australia versus England, Adelaide Oval, 1958-59
England boasted an extremely strong touring party. However after three matches Australia led the series by a 2-0 margin. The visitors needed to win the last two games to retain the Ashes.

Their team for the match included fast bowlers Frank Tyson, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Trevor Bailey, supported by Tony Lock’s left-arm finger spin. Peter May called correctly and duly invited the home side to bat first.

Australia’s response during the course of five hours’ play and 56 eight-ball overs was to accumulate 0-58 by lunch, 0-134 by tea and 1-200 by stumps. Colin McDonald and Jimmy Burke shared a 171-run opening partnership before Burke was dismissed for 66.

Sixty-two years later, it is still the only instance of an Australian team being sent in and losing just one wicket in an entire day’s play.

On the following morning McDonald extended his own score to 170, and Australia ended the second day’s play on 6-403. It continued batting on the following day, until all out for 476.

England could only reply with 240, and after following on made a further 270 in its second innings. Australia required just 35 runs for victory, which it achieved without loss. Its series lead was 3-0, and it had regained the Ashes.

Australia versus Pakistan, the WACA, 1983-84 
It was the series’ first match. Pakistani cricket was politicised to an even greater degree than usual. The touring party’s selection committee, captain and overall composition changed multiple times. Key players were absent due to injury or suspension.

Stand-in captain Zaheer Abbas won the toss and invited the home side to bat on a bouncy pitch. The Wisden Almanack speculated that the tactic was solely to ensure that Pakistan’s top order would not immediately face the pace quartet of Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg, Geoff Lawson and Carl Rackemann.

Dennis Lillee

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

On a mathematically neat first day’s play the home side’s progressive end-of-session scores were 1-110 at lunch, 2-221 at tea and finally 3-330 at stumps. Wayne Phillips and Graham Yallop shared a 259-run second-wicket partnership, and reached individual scores of 159 and 141 respectively. Phillips’ score was just short of the highest innings by an Australian on debut, Charles Bannerman’s 165 in 1876-77.

The following day Australia closed its innings at 9-436, and reduced Pakistan to 4-28 by stumps. The visitors never recovered, being dismissed for 129 and 298 to lose the game by an innings and nine runs. Rackemann took 5-32 and 6-86, to claim overall figures of 11-118 and the man of the match award.

South Africa versus Australia, Centurion, 2013-14 
It was the series’ first match, following shortly after Australia had regained the Ashes at home. Michael Clarke called incorrectly, and South Africa duly sent Australia in.

The visitors struggled early, being 3-83 at lunch and 4-98 shortly afterwards. However they would not lose another wicket during the remainder of the day’s play. Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith resisted until tea was taken at 4-176, and when stumps were drawn their side’s score was 4-297.

Marsh and Smith reached 148 and 100 respectively, enabling Australia to total 397. It then extended its advantage over the home side by dismissing it for just 206 in reply. Mitchell Johnson was at his destructive best with figures of 7-68.

An Australian second innings of 4(dec)-290 set the home side 482 for victory. Johnson’s 5-59 ensured that it would fall well short, totalling 200 and suffering a 281-run defeat. The visitors went on to win the series by a 2-1 margin.

Australia versus West Indies, the MCG, 2015-16 
It was the second match of a three-game series, and the visitors had already lost at the Gabba. Jason Holder called truly, and invited Australia to bat.

David Warner fell cheaply and Australia went to lunch at 1-70. From that point it was one-way traffic. The home side reached 1-193 by tea and 3-345 by stumps. Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja made centuries and shared a 258-run second-wicket partnership.

Adam Voges and captain Steve Smith also scored tons, undefeated ones that boosted their respective averages. Australia declared its innings at 3-551. Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican and debutant Carlos Brathwaite had collective figures of 0-319.

Steve Smith

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

After the West Indies replied with 271 the home side batted again and closed at 3-179, then dismissed the visitors a second time for 282. Australia’s victory margin was 177 runs. It duly retained the Frank Worrell Trophy with a match to spare.

Australia versus South Africa, the SCG, 1910-11 
It was South Africa’s first tour to Australia. While Australia led the series 3-1, the visitors had been competitive.

Percy Sherwell called correctly, and invited the home side to bat. Due to wet weather, play could not commence until almost 2:30 in the afternoon. When Australia commenced its innings on a rain-affected pitch, it promoted bowlers HV Hordern and Bill Whitty to numbers three and five in the order respectively.

Tea was taken after 38 overs with Australia’s score 2-136, having successfully negotiated the pitch’s early challenges. Charlie Macartney was undefeated on 75, while usual opening batsman Warren Bardsley had just arrived at the crease after being held back until number four.

By the time stumps were drawn the side had reached 3-281 from 74 overs. Macartney had fallen for 137 from just 193 deliveries. Bardsley was 83 not out. It had been a profitable day for the home side, despite the wet conditions and loss of playing time.

Australia subsequently reached 364, and then dismissed South Africa for 160 to claim a 204-run lead. After following on, the visitors scored 401 in their second innings with Billy Zulch top-scoring with 150.

The home side overhauled its 198-run victory target for the loss of three wickets, thanks in part to Victor Trumper’s undefeated 74 from 100 deliveries. As a result it claimed the series by a 4-1 margin.

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Pakistan versus Australia, Rawalpindi, 1994-95
Defeat in Karachi by just one wicket was likely to make a series victory extremely difficult to achieve. Mark Taylor called incorrectly in Rawalpindi, and his team was sent in to bat on a well-grassed and bouncy pitch.

He and Michael Slater added 176 runs in 216 minutes for the first wicket, defying Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in the process. The side went to lunch on 0-88, tea on 2-187 and stumps on 3-305. The fine start enabled Australia to declare at 9-521 the following day.

Although the visitors then dismissed the home side for 260 and enforced the follow-on, they could not force victory and level the series. When Pakistan batted again it amassed 537 and saved the match.

Winning the toss and batting, and batting, and then batting some more, is the basis of my nom de plume.