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Scrap the toss to save Test cricket

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Time to toss the toss? (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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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.

    Day-night Test cricket Adelaide Oval Australia New Zealand

    (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

    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.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • May 21st 2018 @ 8:39am
      Tlux said | May 21st 2018 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      Ronan, just wondering if there’s any evidence/data from the County Championship after getting rid of the toss?

      Have games become more competitive? Are the pitches getting fairer? Has scoring increased?

      • Roar Rookie

        May 21st 2018 @ 9:46am
        Tom VDS said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        I read last week that scrapping the toss in County cricket hasn’t increased the winning percentage of away sides.

        • Roar Guru

          May 21st 2018 @ 10:30am
          Chris Kettlewell said | May 21st 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

          I suppose the question is whether it’s caused fairer pitches to be produced. As pointed out by Ronan, England still likely would have lost the last Ashes comfortably even if they’d won 5 tosses. But the point is that if Australia knew they would going to bowl first every time at home would they still make pitches that were really flat and would likely see them starting the match with at least a day and a half in the field. Especially with all the talk of protecting fast bowlers or would we start to see pitches with a little bit more in them for the bowlers on day 1, which provides a more interesting cricket match. Basically, if you know the away team gets to choose, you try to get pitches produced that make it a hard choice because they aren’t sure whether batting or bowling first is the best option.

          I don’t know that it would make a lot of difference in India. In recent times they’ve been pretty good at bowling first, having a pretty sizable score piles against them, but then still going past that, setting up a decent first innings lead and either winning by an innings or leaving not much of a fourth innings chase.

      • Columnist

        May 21st 2018 @ 11:29am
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 21st 2018 @ 11:29am | ! Report

        Tlux I don’t have stats regarding changes in winning percentage for away teams in the County Championship but there’s been plenty of reportage in the English media saying that the pitches have been better since this initiative came in.

        • May 21st 2018 @ 10:02pm
          Brian said | May 21st 2018 @ 10:02pm | ! Report

          The County rules are different because of the visiting captain decides to bat there is a toss. So the rule only prevents greentops does not really prevent roads.

    • May 21st 2018 @ 9:02am
      Pete said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Well argued

    • May 21st 2018 @ 9:10am
      Ruminate said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      Interesting that Adelaide used to be the road, and now it’s the fairest.

      • Roar Guru

        May 21st 2018 @ 9:21am
        JamesH said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        It’s because they’ve deliberately left grass on it to protect the pink ball. Watch it morph back into a road for the day test against India this summer.

      • Columnist

        May 21st 2018 @ 11:31am
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 21st 2018 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        The Adelaide day-night Test has been the highlight of each of the past three summers for me, it will be interesting to see how the pitch plays during the regular day fixture against India this summer. Hopefully it won’t be too flat.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 24th 2018 @ 1:20pm
        Pedro The Fisherman said | May 24th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        Adelaide could not be described as being a road since the early 1990’s. There have been 4 draws in the past 27 Tests (since 1991 and not including that 1991 draw).
        Indeed, no Australian pitch is particularly prone to draws (the MCG has only seen 2 draws in the past 20 Test Matches, albeit 2 in the last 4).

    • May 21st 2018 @ 9:14am
      Paul said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Hopefully it would also stop countries making pitches suited specifically for their bowlers. The ICC to it’s credit has declared a number of pitches “poor standard”. If you combine pitch improvements with giving first choice to the visiting team, it can’t do anything but improve Test cricket.

    • Roar Guru

      May 21st 2018 @ 9:20am
      Edward L'Orange said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      About time this happened. A great thing to do for the game. We just need the BCCI not to stand in the way, and I’m not holding my breath.

    • Roar Guru

      May 21st 2018 @ 9:27am
      JamesH said | May 21st 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      I like this idea, but the ICC also needs to do something about the number and standard of warm up matches offered to touring sides. Playing the Chelmsford Second XI in a paddock over three days is not adequate test preparation.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 21st 2018 @ 10:24am
        Pedro The Fisherman said | May 21st 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        I agree but I think that the crammed international schedules mitigate against meaningful warm up matches. Gone are the days of 3 matches against State teams prior to the First Test (and 1 or 2 squeezed between Tests). We now have 2 countries touring each summer (and sometimes 3).
        The hit and giggle game has encroached on the test arena to such a point that there is no room for warm up games. Even the domestic BBL is a scheduling issue and nobody seems to play any meaningful Tests whilst the IPL is playing.

      • Columnist

        May 21st 2018 @ 11:54am
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 21st 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

        JamesH I agree with that but there’s also an onus on the board of the touring team to make more of an effort to create time for proper preparation for Test tours.

        For example, the BCCI opted for India to have an almost non-existent warm-up for their Test tour of SA earlier this year and it showed.

        By comparison, Australia put huge effort into their preparation for last year’s tour of India, first doing a training camp on tailor-made turning pitches in Australia, and then doing a long training camp at the ICC headquarters in Dubai on turning decks. All that effort paid off and they performed well in India.

        • May 21st 2018 @ 1:20pm
          Homer said | May 21st 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          India lost 2-1 to South Africa with no practice. Australia lost 2-1 to India with all that preparation.
          India toured South Africa in the middle of their home season. Australia toured India at the end of a season that started in october, with India having played 9 tests by the time Australia landed.
          What gives?

          • Roar Guru

            May 21st 2018 @ 2:45pm
            JamesH said | May 21st 2018 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

            I think that SA tour had a lot to do with the fact that the pitches made life hard for SA’s batsmen too. The soft, green decks were heaven for Kumar and co.

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