In 2015, Ricky Ponting came up with a unique suggestion related to the burning issue of reviving the interest in cricket. He felt that the toss should be done away and the visiting side to be allowed to choose bat or bowl first. Although, he did not mean to say that the toss was the all-deciding factor in the outcome of Test but he wished to put forward the thought that dumping the toss would even out the advantage the home side exploits on most occasions.
The matter gathered more steam ahead of the 2016 County Championship when the ECB decided to test the method. The motive obviously was to make the counties stop producing pitches that just suits their seamers. This radical thought, contrary to the tradition which was over a century, was also backed by Steve Waugh, Michael Holding and also Australian coach Darren Lehman.
In the last decade, the number of teams winning at home is at an all-time high. On most occasions, the odds are comfortably stacked against the visiting side. Home teams certainly benefit from the toss factor but a dive into some past results show that the result have not been vastly contrasting even if the home team loses the toss. Australia won in New Zealand, England beat South Africa.
These are top class sides bred in the seaming conditions and when these two quality sides came head to head – the contest held greater importance and very less emphasis was on the toss. The result favoured the team who played better and that was the visiting sides won on those occasions.
After the negative conclusion of any highly important Test, many captains often rue over the fact they lost an important toss. Losing a toss is considered as tactical blunder despite the fact that its outcome is purely based on the unpredictable ‘luck’ factor. Winning the toss hasn’t guaranteed a team an increased chance of winning every time. The outcome depends on many things, including whether teams are able to capitalise on the toss advantage the conditions, and how closely matched the teams are.
It is also noteworthy that most of the recent debates over the toss emerged after the drubbing at the hands of Asian teams in their home conditions, especially India. The Indians have been highly dominant home and the visiting teams have had a really toilsome time competing here, Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and Pakistan in UAE also maintain a similar record. The same Asians have also fared poorly overseas. The toss cannot be blamed; in fact, it was less likely to be a factor in the post-match analysis which the teams do normally.
This brings me to another issue which is of an overdose of cricket. It seems that doing away with tight scheduling perhaps the better option to ponder upon rather than trying to get rid of a ‘significant but also trivial’ tradition of toss.
The visiting teams in the past, especially at the times when you had only Test cricket had the luxury of spending more time in the visiting country to prepare of the matches. A highly important ritual that was forgotten mindlessly in the pretext squeezing in more bilateral series with an eye on increasing monetary gains after the bursting popularity of the Television.
This fact might seem poles apart from the ongoing debate of whether to toss or not?
But reviving an old tradition which bounds to be more impactful in helping visiting teams get accustomed to the foreign conditions.
There are less “visitor”/practise games played where visiting Test teams can really get a glance of the ground and the condition like in the old days.
These team just go in and out of countries and move to the next series. This has more to do with the results that the toss. The players suffer and the relevance decreases, especially in countries which host matches same venues every year.
Another way to neutralise homes team advantage can be done with the help of tough penalty for preparing ‘poor’ rated pitches can also be employed.
Also, the mindset should be open enough to criticise a seam bowling wicket that yields 15 wickets on day one when a spinning is considered a minefield if the same event takes place on it.
Getting rid of the toss seems innovative but is no miracle cure to restore the waning interest cricket.