It’s a blasphemous thought, but tossing the toss out of the game is a simple yet sensible option. © Getty Images

It’s a blasphemous thought, but tossing the toss out of the game is a simple yet sensible option. © Getty Images

 

Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No – not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

– A Psychological Tip, by Piet Hein, the Danish poet

In cricket, when the captains walk out for the toss before the start of the match, that sudden flash of realisation isn’t supposed to happen, they are expected to know what they want if the coin lands their way. I’m pretty sure that’s not true of all captains. A legendary Indian one, for example, is known to have dreaded winning the toss, simply because he didn’t have the foggiest what the pitch was about. Dr WG Grace is supposed to have said, “When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then bat.” With His Grace, you can also be reasonably sure he won the toss more often than not. *

Ricky Ponting has a better idea. During last year’s Ashes Test at Lord’s, which Australia won by 405 runs within four days, he proposed scrapping the toss of the coin at the start of a match. Was it the first time someone prominent enough had suggested it? I’m not sure. But it certainly was the cue for a host of others, including Shane Warne and Ian Botham, and then Michael Holding, to throw their weight behind the idea.

“What you need to do now is to make sure you have even contests between bat and ball. For that, there should be no toss and the visiting captain should be allowed to decide what he wants to do after inspecting the pitch,” wrote Holding in Wisden India soon after.

It all seemed far too fantastic when it was suggested. What? No toss? Oh, that’s not cricket!

The toss has been such a big part of cricket that the mere thought of ditching it was almost blasphemous. Why, even when we played with a stack of bricks for wickets out on the streets, we started with a toss. Cricket moved from Tests to one-dayers to Twenty20s, and from whites to pajamas to neon and fluorescent, stumps and sightscreens and everything in between the two have changed, but not the toss, nor its raison d’être. More than any other sport, in cricket, the toss is important; it has meaning, it has impact. A bit too much, some feel. And that’s the reason it should not be there.

In this day and age of home sides largely calling the shots in bilateral series, especially the five-day variety, and a dire need for better contests – between teams and between bat and ball – tossing the toss out of the game is a simple yet sensible option.

Next in line: Spirit of Cricket. Let’s scrap that quickly. There are umpires and match referees to deal with unsportsmanlike conduct – Mankading is not it. After that, let’s deal with the boundary line: If the ball is over, it’s over; if it isn’t, it isn’t – let’s leave the players’ bodies out of it. Yes, let’s toss those out as well.

We’ll have to leave the International Cricket Council to think about it, as they should, but the English county circuit has taken a small first step. Basically, if the visiting captain wants to field, there would be no need for a toss, and the home team has to take first strike. The coin will, however, be fished out if the visiting captain is either unsure or would rather have a bat.

The move on the part of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Cricket Committee, of which Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are a part, is ostensibly to bring spinners into the game a lot more, and take out the made-to-order greentops that allow average medium pacers to return big hauls. It’s actually a problem that’s dogged Indian domestic cricket for a while as well.

Whatever the ECB’s reason, their move is good for the game. One side has the home advantage. That can’t be undone. Give the visitors some sort of an edge. What better than winning the toss, or something like it?

“It’ll ensure better pitches throughout the world, because no one will look to build a pitch whose features are obvious, and which will give an immediate advantage to the visiting captain,” wrote Holding. “They will try and prepare good quality surfaces that give no obvious advantage to anyone, which is what you want in Test matches.”

In time, hopefully, the practice will catch on, even if it means taking out a bit of the drama from the packages broadcasters spend so much money on.

On Sunday, on the first day of the latest season of the county championship, five matches took flight (poor weather meant the Worcestershire v Kent game didn’t start). Gareth Roderick, the Gloucestershire captain, won the toss and opted to bat away at Chelmsford against Essex. In the remaining games, all of them, there was no toss.

It was historic, whichever way you look at it.

And it’s the way to go – forward and elsewhere. Not only by letting the visiting captain opt to field or bust, but letting the visitors decide what they want to do.

Next in line: Spirit of Cricket. Let’s scrap that quickly. There are umpires and match referees to deal with unsportsmanlike conduct – Mankading is not it. After that, let’s deal with the boundary line: If the ball is over, it’s over; if it isn’t, it isn’t – let’s leave the players’ bodies out of it. Yes, let’s toss those out as well.

* I read somewhere that Grace once called ‘The Lady’ when the coin went up. On one side was Queen Victoria and, on the other, Britannia. It was classic ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.