Published on July 24th, 2018 | by Rohit Sankar0
Making sense of the (senseless) toss debate🕓 Reading time: 4 minutes
“I’m a big fan of taking away the toss. I think even in South Africa you’ll still prepare the conditions the way you prepare them now, but you just make sure that you bring some balance.”
South African skipper, Faf du Plessis’, comments after South Africa’s embarrassing first Test loss at Galle received a lot of flak as toss in cricket is as traditional as it gets. The same was discussed in a committee meeting by the ICC a few months back and they arrived at a similar conclusion.
“The committee discussed whether the toss should be automatically awarded to the visiting team but felt that it was an integral part of Test cricket which forms part of the narrative of the game,” the ICC had said in its statement then.
But after two stunning collapses from the Proteas in Sri Lanka followed by du Plessis’ comments, the toss tradition is once again in the spotlight. Pitches being specially designed to suit the home side and this resulting in lop-sided contests is one argument against the toss. If the visiting side is given an option to choose whether to bat or bowl first, it balances out the pitch-factor as per one side of the debate.
Darren Lehmann, the former Australian coach, was a huge fan of scrapping the toss. He had commented that the overindulgence of home teams in pitch preparation was hampering the quality of Test cricket. “Surfaces are either far too bland or, conversely, are far too heavily weighted in favour of the home side. In both instances, that does Test cricket no good at all. My solution to ensure the best possible pitches is, at international level, to do away with the toss, with the visiting side given the option of whether they want to bat or bowl. That way the result is not decided by the toss of the coin, host boards have a greater incentive to produce decent pitches that are fair to both sides and the chances are that after five days the better side – rather than the one that has called correctly and thus been able to take advantage of favourable conditions – is the one what will come out on top,” Lehmann had suggested a few months back.
That sub-continental sides struggle on green tracks and non-Asian sides struggle on the dust bowls in Asia was the primary argument in favour of scrapping the toss. It is quintessential to analyse a few numbers to identify the gravity of the situation before analysing if the toss is indeed to be scrapped.
Since 2012, South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand have together played 58 Tests in the sub-continent of which they have lost the toss in 36 of them. There have been six wins by these sides in the 36 Tests where they lost the toss, but in terms of winning matches, the number isn’t a whole lot better when they win the toss.
|Team||Matches played when toss lost||Won||Lost||Draw||W/L|
|Team||Matches played when toss won||Won||Lost||Draw||W/L|
Now that we have seen the numbers for teams outside sub-continent performing within Asia, there does not seem to be too much of a difference between the Win/Loss ratios.
However, non-Asian teams competing and winning consistently in Asian conditions is unheard of in cricket and it isn’t the victory in itself that we are talking about. It is the manner in which these teams have surrendered.
When South Africa racked up 290 in the final innings at Colombo in the second Test on Monday, it was their highest fourth innings score in the sub-continent. Incidentally, their previous highest in this part of the World had come in the same country on their inaugural tour way back in 1993.
It was their first 200-plus total in the sub-continent since the 214 in 2015 at Bengaluru against India. Since then, the Proteas had recorded seven successive totals less than 200 in this part of the World in matches where they have lost the toss.
They aren’t alone in this category. England, Australia and New Zealand have also done better in terms of scoring runs when winning the toss. This might be due to the fact that batting last, or batting after the first innings, on sub-continental wickets is an arduous task even for wristy batsmen raised on these surfaces.
The same holds true for sub-continental teams touring Australia, South Africa or England and playing on seaming, grassy wickets. More often than not they are put in to bat on unhelpful batting wickets, and suffer from low first innings scores, thereby making the Test relatively one-sided.
All this comes down to supposedly one solution – scrapping the toss. But would things change drastically just by allowing the visiting side the option of choosing to bat or bowl? If the problem is with the deterioration of wickets or pitches flattening out all too soon, shouldn’t that be the issue that is addressed? By blaming the toss, a soft target, or failing to acknowledge that your side was just not good enough, skippers have evaded questions on some truly deplorable performances stemming from lack of application.