ICC playing committee is scheduled to meet on 28 and 29 May to discuss among other things, the viability of the proposal to do away with the toss in Test cricket.
Like every other proposal to change something fundamental to the nature of the game, the idea to toss away the toss has divided opinions among experts and fans alike. On the surface, changing something that has been around since the first Test match that was played appears a bit of an overreaction. But considering the current state of Test cricket, it is probably the only meaningful way in which ICC can intervene to level the Test cricket playing field that is currently stacked heavily in favour of the home team.
There is nothing wrong with the idea of home advantage in sport, but when home advantage starts to become the primary deciding factor in the outcome of a contest, something must be done to change it. In other sports too, there are subtle differences in the nature of playing surfaces, but nothing comes close to cricket where the pitch is almost living, breathing creature that has its own unique characteristics and along with the two teams, is almost a participant in the game.
Indians were better at playing hockey on grass compared to artificial turf, but that meant touring teams from Europe would hardly ever get a chance to compete. It was decided then that hockey should always be played on artificial turf although the nature of the turf itself can vary. In cricket, you can't standardise the playing conditions in the same manner. The behaviour of cricket pitches varies based on several factors that are beyond the control of pitch curators. Moreover, like tennis, different surfaces add an extra dimension to the game of cricket and test the ability of players to adapt to different playing conditions. However, there has to be a way to prevent the so-called "pitch-doctoring", or excessive manipulation of the pitch to suit the home team.
Home cricket boards have become more partisan than ever before. It almost appears that the purpose of organising a Test series is merely to see the home team thrash the opposition instead of staging a sporting contest. More and more test series start with the talks of a whitewash instead of just a win. While fans love to watch the home team win, if the results continue to become a foregone conclusion, then the interest in the format will continue to dwindle.
One solution could be to encourage home cricket boards to act voluntarily and think about the interest of the sporting contest instead of just finding ways to celebrate a home win, but that kind of utopia just doesn't exist in the cricketing world. Home boards are hardly willing to provide fair practice matches to touring teams, let alone offer them more equitable surfaces to play on in actual Test matches. There was a time when a touring team would play proper first-class teams on pitches that would resemble the actual pitches on which the Test match will be played, but these days practice matches often become a farce. Teams like Australia preferred practising in Dubai before coming to India and India preferred an extended net session instead of a practice match before the Test series in South Africa. This is of course when teams can actually find time for doing any practise or conditioning before an important Test series. Usually, teams like India don't have enough of an opening on their calendar to find time for such frivolities.
In such a scenario, there is no harm in doing away with the toss and see what kind of impact it can have. The idea has already been tried in English county cricket where the away team always have the option of bowling first without tossing the coin. The goal there was to increase the likelihood of first-class games going the distance instead of getting finished within 2-days on a green-top.
The ICC Test championship is the perfect opportunity to justify this experiment. In a bilateral rivalry, an away Test series win even after a decade may have its historical significance, but a tournament format like the Test championship needs a level playing field for it to be meaningful. Even beyond the cricket implications, an intervention like this from ICC will send a strong message to the cricket boards that ICC expects them to take more steps to reduce pitch-doctoring and may encourage them reform on their own.
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