Sunday, June 15, 2008

The future cricket 5 (More to toss)

Eight long years ago, a good professor called Warren Edwardes suggested that the toss, the traditional ritual that constitutes the first action in a cricket game, be replaced by the Bid. His suggestion seems to have been considered worthy enough to be picked up by the Financial Times (caution: opens a pdf file). Considering no move has been made in this direction so far, it is safe to assume that the ICC did not deem it worthy to interfere with tradition in this one regard. (Considering the financial and marketing implications that the concept of “the Bid” suggests, certain quarters that run certain forms of the game may be interested in it, but hush, let’s leave cricket to people who understand the on-field game, shall we?)

It’s surprising when you think about it, but many of the traditional rituals of the game haven’t really changed, notwithstanding what else has happened to the game in the last few decades. As Gideon Haigh writes in this Cricinfo piece, the taking of the guard is still as unquestioned and unthinkingly automatic an activity with batsmen as it was from the days of the primo professional allrounder of the early 19th century, William Lambert. (A relatively recent augmentation to this charade is the slightly pretentious and dare I say, sanctimonious, act of taking guard again after reaching a landmark like a hundred or a triple-hundred.) Similarly, that oh-so-quaint British tradition of a tea break still persists in test matches, and lunch continues to be taken after the first two hours of play in the day, even though the clock barely tips over to half-past-eleven in the sub-continent. Test cricket is still played in whites, notwithstanding the fact that players are used as sandwich men in some forms of the game, especially the IxL (replace x with either alphabet, depending on who you support).

Back to the toss. It is a chance beginning to the ritual called the match, and of late, players (do I remember Steve Waugh protesting against it as well?) have questioned the need for it and have suggested that it be done away with. But as rituals go, do you really want it to go? Instead, what if we use it as a kind of a marker-laying for captains to play their hands?

Traditionally, the toss-winning captain decides on two things – who would bat first and, if he decides to bat first, what roller should be used on the pitch. What if we increase the ambit of decisions that can be made immediately after the toss? Like choosing which overs to use as powerplays in a limited overs game? Now that makes it less of an unmixed blessing, doesn’t it? Or choosing what roller to use on each day of the test? And just to take away the luck factor to an extent, how about defining a set of decisions that will be taken alternately between the toss-winning captain and the opposing captain? And the toss winner just gets to make the first move.

Of course, the easiest option is to just eliminate the toss, but then how do you get the game started? Surely not cede home advantage or away advantage or any of those suggestions that were mooted in the past? As for the bid, I suggest we leave that to the people who manage the game outside the ground. I fear it is already happening.

Tailpiece: There is one unquestionable (at least by those who understand the game) abomination that needs to be tossed away when it comes to this ritual: using the toss to determine the winner of a game, a rule that applies in the Twenty20 format when the scores are level at the end. You know the cliché I am thinking of here.

Earlier posts in this series


More new balls

Limited over tests



David Barry said...

I'd be interested to see the bidding system trialled in limited-overs cricket (I'm far too traditionalist to want it in Tests), just to see what the captains do. I see two possibilities:
- follow the old advice of batting first;
- actually analyse it.

There are still waaaay too many teams winning the toss and batting in day ODI's, though I haven't tried to put a run-value on it. Suppose it's 15 runs. Then a captain who knows this could bid up as high as 15, and if he wins the auction, he at least breaks even. But if he knows he's up against a bat-first captain, then he should fold at some point, and then get a double bonus - the bidded runs and the advantage of batting second.

Then (and now I'm dreaming) they might think to see what happens in Test cricket, and then the media might stop criticising captains who win the toss and bowl, and don't bowl the opposition out on day one.

catenians said...

I am glad you picked up on my idea on The Bid.

I have just sent emails to Lalit Modi of The IPL and Keith Bradsaw of The MCC

See my blog on The Bid to replace The Toss

Lets see if there is any movement.


Warren Edwardes

Geetha Krishnan said...

Good luck with the IPL and the MCC, Warren. I have a feeling the IPL may just pick up the idea of the bid in some form or the other.

catenians said...

Th Financial Times have picked up on it.

A brilliant plan to rid sport of useless tossers
By Tim Harford
Published: March 21 2009 00:33 | Last updated: March 21 2009 00:33
“Useless tosser” is a popular epithet for cricket captains with a knack for losing the coin toss and thus allowing their opponents to decide whether to bat or to bowl first. Winning the toss is not always an advantage but, depending on the weather conditions, it can give the winner a significant edge.


To the best of my knowledge, the brilliant idea of replacing a coin toss with an auction had previously been suggested in these very pages. Warren Edwardes, a serial entrepreneur based in London, proposed using an auction in cricket, in a letter to the Financial Times in 1999. As so often, FT readers were the first to know. Alas, the MCC informs me that the proposal was considered by a sub-committee last summer, and “found no enthusiasm”. That is a shame. The idea may not be cricket, but it is excellent economics.