Cricket: Should The Toss Be Tossed Away?

Ethel Gonzales

Although the practice of tossing the coin before a cricket Test match by the two captains is as ancient as the game, in recent times we have seen a huge lot of cases where the toss winning team puts the losing team at distinct disadvantages, including an evolving negative mindset. In some cricket playing nations like England, Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand where the focus is on grooming fast bowlers grassy pitches are prepared and once the host team wins the toss in a day match they put the opposition into bat, particularly if the morning is cloudy apart from the moisture fresh on the grass, and obviously the visiting team suffers not at all due to their fault or their weaknesses. The reverse of this is true in countries, particularly India or Sri Lanka, where the focus is always on the spinners, grass-less slower-flat pitches are prepared and the toss-winning team naturally bats first, because in most cases the pitch begins to turn dangerously from the 3rd or the 4th day onward; the grotesquely turning pitches in India are, no doubt, in some decline after the advent of the shortest-format Indian Premiere League (IPL) in 2009 for obvious reasons. Even in that case of the IPL the toss-losing teams are at a disadvantage, because the winning teams always prefer to chase and as seen in India, anything above 300 also can be chased successfully at the flat batting tracks.

This explains why India had been losing most of the away series in the past decades and winning most of the home series, of course in recent years only, due to more thought and efforts being given to groom more fast bowlers. In the seventies and the eighties in home Test series we had witnessed the unique spectacle of watching the one or at most two medium fast bowlers in the Indian eleven bowling just one or two overs at the start of the fourth innings with even the living legend Sunil Gavaskar at times coming in to bowl the early overs and always hitting the ball hard on the ground so that the famous spinners could take over as soon as possible. Such a scenario has been getting extinct since the late nineties; however, the toss disadvantage remains as ever, in all formats of the game.

The day-night games, introduced for express commercial purposes, the scene of the toss disadvantage gets more serious. As the autumn season starts, the traditional cricket season through to the winter, dew forms later in the evening. All cricketers/commentators/cricket lovers know very well that the dew makes the ball slippery, making it very difficult for the bowlers, both pacers and spinners, to grip the ball well and direct its trajectory as the bowlers would want. Therefore, the toss-winning team always puts in the opposition to bat first, as is most disturbingly witnessed in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup-2021 in Oman and UAE. From the matches of the IPL-2021 shifted to UAE midway we had seen the slow pitches there that makes batting difficult in the first innings and makes bowling difficult in the second innings, invariably favoring the toss-winning-chasing teams, particularly if the match involved two top competitive teams and not the weaker teams or the minnows as opposition, and most of the matches ending as low-scoring and often one-sided ones.

Many disappointed fans from India, for that matter for South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too, would have loved to watch what their teams could have done had they won the toss and chased in those crucially important matches they lost perhaps due to, to some significant extent, the loss of the toss. Since it involved India, a team from the richest cricket board of the world and its strategic business interests globally, the hue and cry over the ‘toss’ is getting noisier and nastier. However, as we have illustrated earlier the toss does affect the matches and does do harm to the toss-losing teams, more if they are almost equals as per the International Cricket Council (ICC) indices and rankings. Now, we’ll see if the toss can be done away with totally or at least partially.

Interestingly, doing away with the toss would be the easiest option in the IPL itself, irrespective of my or your opinion about its utility, because the tournament engages 8-10 teams where each team plays each two times on a double-robin basis; in a 8-franchise IPL each team plays 14 matches in all at the league stage. Therefore, at the league stage one competing team should be allowed to choose fielding or batting in the first match and the same option to the opposing team in the second match and so on. In the elimination round the choice can be given based on the respective net run-rates of the two rivals. We have argued many times earlier that the ICC should adopt a similar format ideally with a double-robin where the Super-12 would be just one group like in IPL and each team would play each at least twice. The toss can thus be tossed away as we have shown. In fact, this standard should be adopted in all ICC tournaments in all formats.

In Test series too that we started this piece with, the elimination of the toss is entirely possible. For example let us take a five-match Test Series between India and say England in any country of the two as a host; either India or England should be allowed to opt for bat or bowl first in the first match, followed by India having the choice in the second and till the fourth match. In the fifth and the last Test, may be the deciding one in some cases, the team with the best ICC ranking should be given the option of the choice. In 2 or 6-match Test series there is no problem at all. This can very well work for all bilateral and international Test and ODI (one-day international) tournaments. And naturally, for both Men’s and Women’s cricket.

Tossing away the practice of the toss would pave the way for a more egalitarian encounters in the glorious gentlemen’s (gentlewoman’s too) game of cricket. This would never put any team at a disadvantage about which they can do just nothing. This is to make all teams equals in terms of choice, and definitely not in performances which is the game of cricket on the field based on application, dedication and mental calm demonstrated by the players. Countries have been long trying to end the stark inequalities present in both developed and underdeveloped countries and to eradicate poverty. Therefore, why not try the same in the most popular and expanding game of cricket to end the inequalities generated by the toss of a mere coin? Why not let the coin do what it’s actually meant for?

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