ICC’s proposal to scrap centuries-old tradition of toss in Tests to level the playing field is downright crazy

  • Vedam Jaishankar
  • May 19th, 2018
  • 8:47:19 IST

The Laws of Cricket do not specifically call for white clothes as mandatory uniform in Test cricket. Nor do they mention that predominantly white clothing ought to be worn! Yet Tests and First Class matches have always been played by cricketers whilst clad in white clothing.

The model cricketer, modern or otherwise, takes great pride in turning out in spotless white gear. They make him look “every inch a cricketer”. This unfaltering adherence to white clothing is a great tradition of the game and every cricketer in Tests or First Class matches religiously follows it.

It's not really a toss-up. Getty Images

Australia skipper Michael Clarke and India captain MS Dhoni during the toss. Getty Images

Indeed what would this glorious game of cricket be without its traditions, some of them handed down from over two centuries?

Yet, if media reports are to be believed, the ICC Cricket Committee is meeting in India at the end of this month (27-28 May) to uproot one of the hallowed traditions of the game: starting a match with the toss!

They are to debate and recommend if the toss ought to be done away with in Test cricket. They believe if Test cricket did away with the toss, home teams would no longer be tempted to prepare pitches that would suit their style of play. The visiting captain would automatically have the right to decide who would bat first and this, they believe, is the equivalent of preparing a level playing field.

They ought to have thought of gimmicks like this when Clive Lloyd’s mighty West Indies were thrashing the living daylights out of all teams all over the world. No one spoke of level playing field then.

The current cricket committee would probably have asked those West Indies greats, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to bat left-handed and the express fast bowlers Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts to bowl under-arm! Who knows, they might have even allowed ‘bump-ball catch’ against the West Indies!

It may be recalled that it was India’s Sunil Gavaskar who had suggested a few years ago that the toss ought to be done away with in domestic cricket. That was the era when Ranji Trophy teams, especially the weaker ones, deliberately opted for under-prepared pitches to ambush strong teams. If the toss went right for them they’d bat first to put up a reasonable total and then slaughter the strong opponents on ‘bullock cart’ pitches.

The weak teams were anyway expected to lose and thus took their chances with under-prepared pitches and the toss. This led to matches finishing in three and even two days’ time. Gavaskar’s reasoning, therefore, was that better pitches would be prepared by home teams if the toss was eliminated.

Of course, with the concept of neutral venues that radical suggestion to banish the toss became irrelevant.

But English county cricket still needed to be evened out. Interestingly their problems were far different than India’s.

To start with, English county cricket’s issue was with green tops, rather than viciously turning ones. Thus their 3-man cricket committee comprising a former Test cricketer, a representative of the players association and an administrator of a county, came up with the idea of giving the visiting team the option of bowling first. If they were unsure of the pitch, they could still opt for the toss.

The ECB’s contention was that 50 percent of spinners’ overs in county cricket was being gobbled up by pedestrian seam and swing bowlers. In 2015, only 22 percent of all bowling was done by spinners while the corresponding figures in Test cricket was 45 percent. ECB held that its batsmen were struggling against spin at the international level because they were not exposed sufficiently to it at the county level.

This led them to experiment with the option of toss at the domestic level.

At the end of one year of experimentation they arrived at some figures that reveal how far removed their concerns were in comparison to India’s, or indeed some of the other countries. Their study revealed:

  1. There was an increase of 10 percent in matches going into the fourth day;
  2. Average first innings total increased by seven runs;
  3. Average total for second innings of a match shot up by 53 runs;
  4. There was an annual increase of around 1,500 overs of spin;
  5. Spinners took 91 more wickets than the previous year’s average of 752;
  6. 26 percent of all wickets fell to spinners;
  7. 50 out of 72 matches in Division One had a toss — meaning the visiting captain declined the option of bowling first without a toss in the 50 matches;
  8. 71 of the matches had a result unlike the previous year when the figure was 93. This meant that there were more draws after the new toss rule was introduced;

England’s intention of doing away with the toss was to discourage preparation of green tops and thus take matches to the fourth day while India want more juice and pep on the opening day of First Class matches!

ECB gave the opportunity to visiting counties to bowl first, if the pitch was green. In contrast, in India, teams would love to bat first, thereby avoiding batting last on a crumbling wicket! Thus concerns in the two countries are vastly different, which, in turn, could lead to an entirely fresh set of problems. But those are for another day.

Meanwhile, reports claim that ICC want to introduce this ‘no-toss’ concept only for its Test Championship. This is sillier still. Why should ‘home advantage’ — one of the traditional strengths of competing teams be taken out of the equation?

The concept of home and away matches exist in almost every sport and this adds to the thrill of staging an upset in away games. Even otherwise, world champions have to possess the skill and mindset to win in hostile, unfamiliar conditions. The toss and its attendant consequences is part of that challenge.

This apart, throwing away a 250-year-old tradition because some folks lack the skillset required to play pace or spin outside their comfort zone is downright crazy. The ICC, it seems, is not searching for excellence but rather for the lowest common denominator!

Updated Date: May 19, 2018 08:47:19 IST

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