Saturday, December 05, 2015

How can ICC replace coin-toss in Cricket?

Cricket is undergoing a change, and hopefully a positive one. Changes in rules (free hit rule), changes in the instruments (pink ball), changes in format (plan to have 4 day test matches), management changes (India, Australia and England now holding the reins) among others. While it's debatable that all are positive changes, but we can take solace from the fact that there are changes after all. Someone is trying hard to ensure their objectives (of making Cricket global) are met. Be that as it may, there are still some rules / events that need to change or be dropped completely. And it all depends on what the audiences want. Let me take the liberty to generalize what audience, especially the newer lot, might want from the game of Cricket.

What new audience would like to see?
  • Competition as opposed to one-sided matches
  • Concise format games introduced in new countries (T20 and ODI)
  • Making Test cricket (the ultimate challenge for any cricketer) more interesting and exciting

There are many ways in which all / some of the above mentioned requirements can be achieved. And it's a larger topic. We will discuss this, but maybe at an appropriate time.

In this post, lets concentrate on making the game of Cricket more interesting by completely eliminating an event of "luck" which happens before the game begins - "coin-toss". For the uninitiated, "coin-toss" is an event that gives a team an opportunity to decide what it wants to do when the game starts. There are two options the toss-winning team can decide - batting and bowling. 

Personally, I am not a big fan of coin-toss as it inadvertently favors one team over the other. This event is umpteen times more significant than a coin-toss in Soccer or any other sport. Here, the team that wins the toss can shift the balance of the game even before a single ball has been bowled. That's how significant it is in the game of cricket. So, by all means, coin-toss should be scrapped from Cricket once and for all. 

But how do we decide who gets to make a decision? I think there are two ways in which we can do that - 
  1. The most popular choice - the visiting team gets to decide. Simple, isn't it? The home side anyway has the home advantage, so to make the scale more balanced, the visiting team gets to choose. This is the easiest way in which we can implement and seems fair to everyone. But there are some loopholes here. Firstly, what if the game is being played in a neutral venue like the recently announced India-Pakistan series to be played in Sri Lanka? Who gets to decide then? Secondly, what if a bottom-ranked team hosts a top ranked team? Here the top ranked team, since they are visitors, gets to decide who bats first? Isn't this significant disadvantage to the bottom ranked team? Despite the home conditions, the bottom ranked team are not expected to win. Not having the option of a coin-toss will also eliminate whatever luck that could have come their way! Another point being raised in support of this choice is that it will prevent home team to 'tweak' the pitch to favor their strengths. I disagree. On the contrary, tweaking of pitches will increase! With the 'rub of the green' going the visiting teams way, the home team has little option but to ensure the pitch behaves the way they want. In my opinion, this option is popular but not foolproof.
  2. My Choice - the lower ranked team to decide - This is what I feel should happen. Let me explain. First of all, it overcomes all the disadvantages of previous option. Lower ranked teams will have an additional ammunition to fight a 'stronger' opponent. The higher ranked team will still have to remain strong to win. That's pretty straight-forward. Now let's include the home conditions. If a lower ranked team plays at home, this team will have additional advantage to make the best use of the conditions by choosing to bat / bowl. The top ranked team should be strong enough to cope with alien conditions. Take Australia v/s Zimbabwe for instance. If Zimbabwe are playing at home, they get the added advantage to decide who bats first. Although it may still not change the prediction of the result, Zimbabwe now have an added option to play to their strengths. In the first option, the onus lies with Australia who honestly won't need it. This is probably an extreme case. Take Australia and India for example and you will see this option will make more sense.
Anyone remembers the computer game 'Need For Speed 2'. It has an option called "catchup" which allows the lower placed racer an opportunity to come close to its closest competitor and thereby make it more competitive. Although it was just in a video game, there's no harm to implement the same in real life. Cricket is no different. There's no harm in giving an extra something 'legit' that can aid the lower ranked opponent. This also ensures the top ranked team remains consistent (and not complacent) throughout the game thereby raising the quality.

What do you think?

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