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Scrapping the coin toss in Test cricket and giving the visiting side choice of whether to bat or bowl would be an excellent decision by the International Cricket Council.
The dominance of home teams is a blight on the longest format, and the ICC’s proposal to get rid of the coin toss would hand a much-needed advantage to touring sides.
The ICC will make a decision on the toss later this month but already the idea of scrapping it has received support from the powerful England Cricket Board.
The ECB removed the mandatory toss from County Championship matches two years ago as a means of trying to prompt home teams to prepare fairer pitches.
Now we could see the same situation in next year’s Ashes, with Australia being able to choose whether to bat or bowl first in all five Tests. In theory, such a situation should increase Australia’s chances of winning each Test, and would do the same for any team playing away from home.
There’s no doubt that measures need to be taken to try to make visiting teams more competitive in Test cricket. I’m a staunch fan of Test cricket, which is my favourite format, but even I struggle to maintain interest in many series which are dominated by the home team.
Not only would scrapping the toss bring the visiting team into the contest but it would surely see the creation of more even Test pitches across the world. This would be particularly relevant in Australia.
Would Australia continue producing absolute roads in most Tests if they knew they’d have to bowl first every time on these batting paradises? Highly doubtful. The most interesting Test in each of the last three Australian summers has just happened to be at Adelaide, which boasted the fairest surface.
Those three day-night Tests in Adelaide have offered a good balance between bat and ball which, to no surprise, has fostered engaging cricket. If the tourists had the option to bat or bowl in each Test, Australia would be pressured into producing such pitches more often.
That would be a brilliant change because the toss has become far too valuable in recent years as Test pitches have seemed to get flatter and flatter the world over. On a road, the team batting first has a monumental advantage, larger than the one owned by a team who fields first on a bowler-friendly track.
They can bat their opponents out of the Test within the first four sessions. When a team is 5-460 at lunch on Day 2, interest quickly drains from the Test, with the fielding side likely to concentrate on grinding their way to a draw.
With Test cricket increasingly under pressure from fast-paced T20 cricket, the game’s administrators cannot let the longest format meander. Strong decisions must be made to make it the best product possible.
If even Test tragics like myself are regularly bored by the format how can it possibly hope to attract hordes of new fans? Of course, while scrapping the toss would surely improve the standard of pitches, it wouldn’t guarantee visiting sides will suddenly start challenging the home teams frequently.
Australia had the big advantage of batting first in all four Tests in India in 2013 and still got utterly humiliated. England could have batted first in all five of the recent Ashes Tests and I’d wager they still would have lost the series handsomely.
Regardless, scrapping the toss would be a big move in the right direction. And Test cricket needs all the help it can get.