Heads, tails it is
A few weeks ago I read online about the ECB's decision's to give the visiting captain the choice to bowl first in the county championship next season. Ever since, I've been asking myself is this a good or bad thing for Test match cricket. Part of me says it's a bold, innovative move that will force home sides to have to think differently about the pitches they prepare; the other part of me however, says do we really need to change a tradition that has served the game so well since the year dot. It's a heart and head situation, but, the only thing is, I don't know what my heart or head is saying!
So here's the situation, for those of you unaware: From next season the away team captain in both divisions of the county championship will be given the option to bowl first. If they decide not to take up this option, there will be a toss of the coin between the two captains. The aim, is to improve the quality of pitches being prepared in the county championship. It's a one season trial. You can read more here.
If the trial is successful, I suspect the ECB will be lobbying the ICC to introduce a similar trial in Test cricket. The issue of pitches has been spoken about at great length in recent years, but it has bubbled to the surface quite significantly following our recent tour to the UAE, where Alastair Cook lost three tosses in a row, on pitches which heavily favoured the side batting first. But, as much as I was frustrated when Cooky kept losing the toss, that's cricket, that's part and parcel of our beautiful game. Goodness knows how many times I thought that 'tails never fails' when I was a 'successful' 4th XI captain. Sometimes the toss works in your favour (Trent Bridge last year), sometimes against (Lords last year) and sometimes you go on an unfortunate run (the UAE). It is swings and roundabouts.
At the end of the day, a game of cricket needs to be a fair contest between bat and ball and I'm just not sure giving one side the automatic choice to bowl first, is going to make that much of a difference to the quality of pitches and if anything, it questions the integrity of groundsmen around the world. Yes, there are definitely pitches in countries that do not offer a fair contest, but I'm just not sure doing away with the coin toss is the magic answer.
I'm no pitch expert, as Tremers will testify, but surely there are other ways. Could the ICC not bring in a ruling that ensure pitches need to be prepared to spefific criteria, similar to formula one where cars have to meet certain regulations. Maybe certain soil has to be used, perhaps a specified amount of grass to be left on, or cut to a certain length, maybe do away with rollers during a game etc etc. Anyone falling foul, by judgement of the match referee, incurs a significant penalty - a one year's suspension of hosting international cricket (Tests, ODI's and T20s). Now I know it's not as simple as that, but my point is there are other ways to improve pitches; taking away the nervous excitement we all feel when the toss of the coin happens isn't one of them.
The toss is the only fair way to determine which side has first use of a pitch.
Trent Bridge was a great example of what you can do when you win the toss while last week's Test in Durban was a great example of what can be done if you lose a toss. Let's not remove these kinds of contests. It's why Test cricket is called Test cricket, because it's a Test of skill, particularly when conditions are against you. Let's not take that away.
Test cricket does need an overhaul, we all recognise that, but there are other ways, and the toss isn't one of them. I won't go over again my thoughts on how, but click here to read a previous blog.
In writing this though, I think I've answered my own question, my head and heart actually both now say no!
What are your thoughts? Tweets us @addisarmy