One of the enduring rituals of any cricket match, the toss, was done away with on Sunday (April 10), the opening day of the new English County Championship season.
In a bid to guard against home teams preparing ‘result’ pitches to favour otherwise modest medium-pace seamers, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have introduced a rule, on a one-year trial basis, that allows visiting captains to field first if they want to in first-class Championship cricket. The scorecard accordingly reads: “Toss, Not Necessary”.
If the captain doesn’t believe conditions are conducive to bowling first, the coin toss proceeds as usual.
As a result, no toss was needed in four of the five matches that got under way on Sunday.
Gareth Roderick, the Gloucestershire captain, was the odd man out and, having called correctly, he backed up his decision to bat first after winning the toss by making an unbeaten 88 in his side’s total of 262 in their Second Division match away to Essex.
The decision to change the rule about the toss was taken by the ECB Board late last year after a recommendation from a nine-member committee that included Andrew Strauss, director of England cricket. It is expected to dissuade teams from preparing tailor-made green tops while boosting spin bowling, and batsmen’s ability to play spin.
“In 2015, less than 22% of the total number of overs in Championship cricket were bowled by spinners, compared with a much higher proportion of around 45 per cent in Test cricket,” pointed out Peter Such, ECB’s lead spin bowling coach, on the board website. “In the last 20 years, we have lost almost 50% of spin bowling overs, our spin bowlers have not been getting enough opportunities to bowl – and obviously that means batsmen have not been facing as much spin bowling as in the past.
“This is a way for the game to balance itself,” he added.
Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire captain, however, wasn’t convinced by the change. “I just think in sport in general, everywhere in the world, everyone talks about home advantage. Isn’t that why it’s so good when you watch a football team away from home – you want them to win because they’re against the odds to start with? Why try and change that?
“I can see what the ECB are trying to do, trying to encourage spinners in the game. I just think it’s the wrong way to do it. Given that we’ve got six Championship games before the end of May, and three Championship games in September, I’m going to find it hard to throw the ball to Adil Rashid when it’s six degrees and he’s blowing his fingers trying to get them warm,” he explained.
International cricketers including Ricky Ponting and Michael Holding, writing in his column for Wisden India, argued for the toss to be scrapped after the Ashes last year, when none of the Tests went into the fifth day.
“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. “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. They will try and prepare good quality surfaces that give no obvious advantage to anyone, which is what you want in Test matches.”
For now, ECB’s experiment is being closely watched. Meanwhile though, one enduring English ‘tradition’, namely that of the weather keeping the players in the pavilion, was maintained with a wet outfield preventing any play at all on Sunday in the Second Division match between Worcestershire and Kent at New Road.