Imagine a cricket match in the future when a toss-winning captain gets to choose the pitch apart from opting to bat or bowl first. It would mean that the curators will have to be a bit more careful with the kind of surfaces they prepare to retain the home advantage and the television crew would have to wait till the last hour to fine tune their camera angles. It could change the way cricket is approached. This, though, is not a novel concept. Captains enjoyed this privilege till about 1809.
With their penchant to experiment and push the boundaries, it won’t be a surprise if Cricket Australia make the retro concept fashionable once again for their domestic games. It will be more revolutionary than their latest contribution to cricket’s lexicon: bat flip.
When Chris Lynn walks out to the middle of the Gabba as Brisbane Heat’s captain in the opening game of the 2018-19 Big Bash League on December 19, he will not have a coin to toss, but a bat to flip. The Adelaide Strikers skipper will not call ‘heads’ or ‘tails’, but ‘hills’ or ‘flats’. Shannon Gill, the communications head at Kookaburra, the cricket equipment manufacturing company responsible for designing this special bat that will enter history books, called it “a leftfield challenge”.
How will one be sure of the bat not landing on one side more regularly? There could be a possibility of visiting captains having quantifiable data to lean on to by the business end of the tournament to decide on whether to call ‘hills’ or ‘flats’. Similarly, the home captains could find ways to make the odds work in their favour. Kim McConnie, CA’s head of BBL, though is confident that “the science” gone into making these special bats will ensure fair play.
“It is a specially weighted bat to make sure that it is 50-50, McConnie said on the day bat flip said hello to the world. “I have got it from great authority at our Kookaburra friends that this is a tested and weighted bat to deliver that equity.”
Bat flip is not a new term. It’s used in baseball in a different context. In cricket, the concept is a popular one in backyard matches across Australian cities. The balance that McConnie promises will be wonderful because ‘hills’ is the preferred call in backyard games as the bat rolling over if it lands on the uneven side compared with if it lands flat is more.
How can a bat be expected to provide “equity” when a coin, more symmetric than most other things, is not always reliable? According to theconversation.com, a study at the University of British Columbia in 2009 concluded that even a regular coin could easily be made to produce biased outcomes if the person tossing it was told “how to manipulate the toss of a coin.” Of the 3,900 tosses done by 13 participants, 57 percent of the landing was heads. Is CA making a small aspect of the game more complicated when a simple coin toss has sufficed the needs for so long?
McConnie also wants us to believe that “its a great moment which reflects what BBL is about.” She said, “Some people don’t like change, but I would also challenge people to say when was the last time anyone watched the coin toss or really focussed on it to a great extent. Now we are making it much more relevant to families, we are creating a moment which is much more fitting with kids.”
Bat flip’s backyard cricket narrative will potentially connect with the Australian public, but to imply that people will now observe the proceedings closely is an over the top assessment.
Bat flip will happen half an hour before play starts when the stands are usually not full. People would be settling down at the ground and only a minority of the television audience would have tuned into the channel. Honestly, it is more a marketing gimmick to gather eyeballs before the start of the tournament than anything else. Some would call it a smart move in a season where Australia and India are engaged in a gripping Test series.
This is not to criticise the idea, but it is a trivial change. Even if bat flip delivers “equity” the probability of it affecting the final result of the game is minor. The team on the right side of the bat flip will more often than not opt to chase as is the norm in T20s where conditions usually remain the same through the 40 overs on most occasions.
Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in the 1970s forms the genesis of the modern-day sport. Hosts of the only indoor One-Day International series, the first Day-Night Test with pink ball, and of course the first country to start a city-based Women’s Twenty20 league, Australia are miles ahead when it comes to packaging cricket as a futuristic product.
Sure, not all innovations like eight-ball over and indoor ODIs have stood the test of time, but if India is the commercial epicentre, Australia is cricket’s creative capital. CA have always prioritised making the sport appealing for the paying public more than any other board.
Most BBLs have had a new peg. The zing bails, introduced in 2012, were soon adopted by International Cricket Council. They have benefitted the third umpire immensely during close line calls. Bat wraps have not yet meant much, but player microphones, which can sometimes be annoying, and helmet cameras have added to the viewing experience.
Will bat flip work at a time when it’s been two years since toss is no more a mandatory aspect to start a game in the English county circuit to give the visiting team a fairground? We need to give the concept time before passing a definitive verdict. Irrespective of the outcome, cricket fans will once again credit Australia for adding a new phrase to their vocabulary.