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THE PREDICAMENT OF THE CAPTAINS AT THE TOSS

27.08.2018  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

Every Cricket match, be it a Backyard Cricket, Street Cricket, Gully Cricket, School Cricket, First class matches or International cricket matches, starts with a bit of a raffle in the form of toss.

In International Cricket matches, as the coin goes up in the air, it is not only the captains involved in the process who are nervous. It is the entire millions of supporters of both the teams, whose heart miss a beat, before the tossed coin finishes its journey.

Once a toss is won, in Street Cricket, it is an easy decision for the "Captain" which is to bat first always. It is a no brainer as the idea is to rightaway go and give a whack at the ball at the first available opportunity.

In International Cricket, it is not that simple. Even experienced captains backed up by knowledgeable think-tank are always in a dilemma whether to bat first or bowl first.

This Article is about the factors influencing the decisions of the captains and of the predicaments faced by the captains at the time of toss.

1.Factors determining the decision of the captains at the toss

a) Format of the game
The format of the game , whether a five day Test match or a 50 overs One day International or a T20 match, determines the choice. If it is a Test Match, though not always, captains are more inclined to bat first. If it is a T20 match, teams would want to bowl first as no nobody knows what a safe score is in T20s. The ODI is somewhere in between where the captains take into consideration the other factors as well to take an appropriate decision.

b) Locale of the match and nature of the wicket
When matches are played on slow and low sub-continental pitches like India and Sri Lanka, teams would love to invariably bat first, more so in a Test match. Such pitches are more conducive to bat on the first two days. As the game progresses, the wicket slows down bringing the slow bowlers into play.

Besides, in Test matches, teams shun to bat last in the fourth innings on a deteriorating pitch. Therefore, on sub-continental pitches, captains can ponder over the possibilities any number of times but should finally settle for batting first.

Unless you are blessed with a Marshall, Holding, Roberts and Garner in your bowling line up, it is always better to bat first in a Test Match in India.

When matches are played in places like England, Newzealand and South Africa, captains are more willing to put the opposition in to exploit the bowler- friendly conditions on a fresh wicket. When overhead conditions are murky, teams would try to press home the advantage by bowling first.

c) Composition and strength of the team
A team, packed with fast bowlers would look to bowl first, whereas a team with more spinners would love to bat first. Some teams are good at chasing any target, while some others are more comfortable in setting a reasonable target and then defending the same with its bowling resources. Thus the decision of the captain is influenced by the team composition and strength of his team.

d) External factors like rain and dew
Cricket is the only game which is controlled by so many external factors like rain, dew, gloomy overcast conditions, direction of the wind etc. In a day-night match, the dew factor will come into play. Bowlers struggle to grip the ball when there is dew. For the batsmen, the ball will skid through and come onto the bat nicely . When the captains anticipate dew later in the night, they will choose to bowl first and complete their team's bowling before the dew sets in. Sometimes, the spectators are left to wonder why so much importance is given to the dew factor. In a 50 overs game, dew is likely to set in at a later part of the second innings ,perhaps after 30 overs.

In such a scenario, the pertinent question on every one's mind is why the captains are not brave enough to win the toss and bat first and take the game out of the reach of the opposition in the first 80 overs, well before the dew starts falling. There had been history of Captains losing the plot after attaching too much importance to dew factor.

In shorter versions of the game, when the weather forecast is for rain, the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method will come into play which will favour the team chasing. Sometimes, the dampness in the wicket due to overnight rain may force captains to bowl first.

At times, by giving excess importance to external factors, captains err and play into the hands of the opposition.

e) Mindset of the Captains
One of the most successful captain's in the history of Cricket, Ricky Ponting of Australia, always wanted to bat first. On the other extreme, during Rahul Dravid's tenure as ODI Captain of the India Team, India successfully chased down targets on 11 consecutive occasions. The captain's mindset plays an important role on such decisions.

f) Significance of the game
In a crucial match like a knockout match or the final, it is always better to bat first and put runs on the board. That way the pressure can be shifted to the opposition.

2. Mind games played by Captains at the toss

It has nowadays become a trend for the captain losing the toss to say that he should have done the same what the other Captain has asked him to do. Supposing a captain wins the toss and asks the opposition to bat, the opposition captain would say I would have batted in any case.

Some animated captains would go one step further by uttering "Had I Known the decision of the opposition captain earlier, I would not have come for the toss". These are the mind games played by the captain, who is at the wrong end of the coin, to generate an impact on the psyche of the other captain that he got it wrong at the toss.

Sometimes when a captain is indecisive at the toss, you will hear him say "It is a good toss to lose" or "It is a blessing in disguise to lose the toss". The captains, when unsure, are more than happy to let the opposition captain to take a decision.

3. Some weird reality always associated with the toss

As a regular follower of this beautiful game, you will witness the visitors always losing the toss when touring. One recent example of that was the two match Test series between Sri Lanka and South Africa played in Sri Lanka. South Africa lost the toss in both the Test matches and they were up against it even before the first ball was bowled. Most of the times, it so happens that it is the weaker time which always loses the toss.

4. Seldom captains think out of the box at the toss

As a faithful fan of Cricket, most of the times, I wonder why a captain doesn't think out of the box at the toss. Imagine a situation in a match where both the captains wish to bowl first. In such a predicted state of affairs, one captain could go for the jugular by packing his team with more bowlers and opting to bat first .By doing so, he could surprise the opposition and seize the game by the scruff of the neck. He could strive to control the match with his excessive bowling resources. But all International captains are reluctant to take such risks.

5. Good idea to dispense with the toss in case of weaker teams.

It is high time now for International Cricket Council (ICC) to dispense with the toss in case of weaker teams. In such a case, the weaker teams should be given the option to do whatever they wish to do, that is to say, to bat or bowl first.

Take the case of Afghanistan's debut Test match against India in Bangalore. It was a match in which a new entrant to Test Cricket was pitted against the world's No 1 ranked Test team. At least on theory, Afghanistan was in with an outside chance of giving India a run for its money, had they won the toss and batted first. As it turned out, India won the toss and the match got over in two days.

Here, I am not saying Afghanistan could have won the match had they won the toss. All I am suggesting is to dispense with the toss in case of weaker teams to narrow down the gulf and to enable them to compete on equal platform.

6. Is toss going for a toss?

There have been recent discussions in ICC to dispense with the practice of toss. This is to negate the home team advantage arising out of preparing tailor made wickets to suit the home team. But it will take some time to break this age old tradition.

7. How important is the toss in the context of a game?

Toss is just not a formality. It is an important factor determining the outcome of a match. There are some matches where the mantra would be "Win the toss and Win the match". Toss gives so much undue advantage to one team to surge ahead in the game before a ball is bowled.

Again, it is not that the simple. It is not safe to presume that the team winning the toss always ends up winning the match. It is the performance of the players to back up the decision of their captain , that will decide the fate of a match.

To conclude, the importance of a toss can be better explained by an illustration.

It was the most famous match ever played on Indian soil. Like any other final, lot depended on the outcome of the toss. However, at the background of the noisy crowd, the match referee could not hear what the visiting captain had called.

The visiting captain knew how important it was for his team to win the toss and bat first in a final. In the commotion leading up to the toss, the home team captain thought he had won the toss. But the visiting captain, fearing the worst, simply kept mum when asked what he had called.

Presuming the whole world didn't hear if he had called head or tail. But the visiting captain himself should have definitely known what he had called. Keeping in mind the interest of his team, he was tight-lipped. This led to re-toss which the visiting captain genuinely won.

It was another story for another day to narrate that karma caught up with that visiting captain even before that night was out. Ironically, it was his opposite number, who was graceful enough to concur for the re-toss to happen , who finished off the match in style by depositing the last ball of the match into the Arabian sea.