A brilliant plan to rid sport of useless tossers

“Useless tosser” is a popular epithet for cricket captains with a knack for losing the coin toss and thus allowing their opponents to decide whether to bat or to bowl first. Winning the toss is not always an advantage but, depending on the weather conditions, it can give the winner a significant edge.

Language barriers have prevented the phrase “useless tosser” from crossing the Atlantic, but the problem is familiar. When an American football game goes into overtime, it is a distinct advantage to win the coin toss. The coaches know it: when they win, they almost invariably choose to receive possession of the ball. In 2008, lucky callers won 10 overtime games and unlucky ones only four.

The very existence of the coin toss is an admission of defeat – that there is something irreducibly unbalanced about these games, some advantage that cannot be divided but can only be surrendered to the gods of chance. Chess players cannot both play “grey” – one must play white. Cricket teams cannot bowl simultaneously.

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Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.