“It is better that the Test matches continue to start with two dapper men walking in with blazers, standing mid-pitch, and then a small metallic object reflecting a flash of light as it ascends heavenwards”.
The captains in their blazers.
The coin flicked with the thumb.
The spectators peering, trying to follow the flight of the tiny metal disc.
And down it comes. The hustle of the two skippers to see the outcome of this flip of fate.
Then we back to the spectators, eagerly reading the body language. These days they follow the host who accompanies the captains for the event, the television presenter. The one he approaches first is the one who has won.
It is a moment that kicks off a Test match. It is a moment that carries with it the element of luck. It is a moment for decisions.
It is a tradition.
In no other sport do the results hinge so much on tertiary devices such as clouds and sunshine, moisture and dew, sweat, spit, and sometimes sandpaper, roughness and shine, wind speed and direction, grass and topsoil. And all these parameters are multiplied by that unknown called the toss. Something that makes the game closer to our soul, closer to the way events in life is governed.
It is because of these parameters that cricket, especially Test cricket, mimics life. Playing for time, long innings, caught napping … and numerous other expressions are as much cricketing as to do with day to day existence.
There is also a second chance in the form of the second innings.
Yes, Test cricket is like life, unlike any other sport. Well, perhaps there are others, but that does not really change this ‘truth’ for cricket romantics.
And like life, there is an amount of luck built into the format. That comes with the outcome of the toss.
The camera angle which shows the faces of the captains, cap blazer and all, eyes peering towards the flicked coin, the sky with its patches of blue, grey, white and black in the background … all this epitomises how very important this is.
Is it really necessary to tamper with this element?
It is a tradition. It is an inseparable aspect.
It has also produces iconic moments.
WG Grace calling ‘The Lady’ and walking off pretending to have won the toss regardless which way the coin landed.
Stanley Jackson winning toss after toss in the 1905 Ashes, and finally Joe Darling stripping down to the waist, challenging him to a wrestling match instead. And Jackson agreeing provided George Hirst could take his place.
Don Bradman and Wally Hammond walking out, two great cricketers with an even greater rivalry, the tension palpable as the coin makes its way heavenwards.
Wally Hammond again, this time with Lindsay Hassett, with the disc in the air, announcing the start of the Victory Tests, assuring the onlookers that the atrocities of the Second World War have ultimately come to an end.
Frank Worrell walking out with Richie Benaud, the symbol of emancipation, a vital change in the history of men.
Kepler Wessels and Richie Richardson at Bridgetown, in front of a nearly non-existent crowd, the black man and the Afrikaner underlining that the despicable policy of apartheid is a thing of the past.
The toss is more to cricket than a simple part of the game.
It is a curious ritual, curious because it makes sense … It carries stories, messages and signals more than the start of play.
And then come the part of tactics and strategies.
How to capitalise, how to cut losses, how to count gains due to the outcome of the toss. Adding intrigue to the tactical dimension of captaincy. Yet another of the many delightful facets of the game.
The battle of wits of two captains, the game of chess within the sport of cricket, with the rotating coin deciding on who gets a say.
An inseparable part of cricket.
Yes, the home advantage has become a bother with time. Yes, doing away with the toss in county cricket has provided some encouraging results.
But, at what cost?
Is there no other way to ensure unbiased results? Regulated surfaces, neutral curators, stricter evaluation by the match referee?
The toss is an integral part of the game, underlining so many things that make cricket the sport it is.
It is better that the Test matches continue to start with two dapper men walking in with blazers, standing mid-pitch, and then a small metallic object reflecting a flash of light as it ascends heavenwards.
Heads or tails …