The other day I accidentally caught a few seconds of one of those tedious phone-in political discussion shows on the radio. The discussion was obviously about the economy, because I heard the caller say;
“Chancellor’s of the exchequer are like cricket captains, you are better off with a lucky one than a good one.”
Or words to that effect. This set me thinking, what elements of luck are there in a captain’s cricketing career and how can a skipper be judged by his or her luck?
The first element of luck in cricket must surely be the coin toss.
I had always presumed that there was a 50-50 chance of a coin landing on ‘Tails’, which is why, in my short career as captain I adopted the ‘tails never fails’ philosophy, which, as it turned out failed about half the time. However recent Canadian research shows that coin tosses are anything but random, and that the 50-50 outcomes are a myth.
Matthew Clark and Dr. Brian Westerberg at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, asked thirteen medical students to flip a coin 300 times and try to influence the way it landed, cash prizes were awarded to the students who could make the coin land on ‘Heads’ most often. After just two minutes’ practice, the students could make the coin land on the side they wanted 54% of the time. One of the participants achieved heads a startling 68% of the time.
The simplest method of toss manipulation (and the one most relevant to cricket) is simply to note which side of the coin that is uppermost before it is flipped, as this side is 57% more likely to land facing upwards, they found. This is because discs do not spin symmetrically in flight.
But by far the biggest influence on which side the coin lands is the height, the angle of launch and the catch. By practicing to gain consistency, the tosser can have a significant affect on the outcome up to a 68% success rate.
Other studies have suggested that a Belgian €1 coin is significantly heavier on one side of the coin than the other which in theory would give more heads than tails. However Clark and Westerberg demonstrated that this effect was no more pronounced than on the more routine cheating manipulation demonstrated here.
“The findings of my research show, to statistical significance, that it is easy to manipulate the toss of a coin”, said Clark.
This suggests that when Nasser Hussein lost the toss on fourteen consecutive occasions (16384 to 1, if you are interested), rather than being unlucky he was just not practicing enough.
1. How random is the toss of a coin?
Matthew P.A. Clark, MBBS and Brian D. Westerberg, MD
From St. Paul’s Rotary Hearing Clinic, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
2. Murray DB, Teare SW. Probability of a tossed coin falling on its edge. Phys Rev E Stat Phys Plasmas Fluids Relat Interdiscip Topics. 1993;48:2547–52. [PubMed]
3. Diaconis P, Homes S, Montgomery R. Dynamical bias in the coin toss. SIAM Rev. 2007;49:211–35.
4. MacKenzie D. Euro coin accused of unfair flipping. New Sci. 2002. Jan 4, [(accessed 2009 Oct. 22)]. Available: www.newscientist.com/article/dn1748-euro-coin-accused-of-unfair-flipping.html.
5. Denny C, Dennis S. Heads, Belgium wins — and wins. The Guardian; [UK]: 2002. Jan 4, [(accessed 2009 Oct. 22)]. Available: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/jan/04/euro.eu2.
6. Kosnitzky G. Murphy’s Magic Supplies. Rancho Cordova (CA): 2006. Heads or tails; p. 6.
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