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With news on Thursday that cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), is mulling the move to scrap the count toss at the start of Test matches, the sport’s oldest ritual has come under fire. The toss of coin has been part of international cricket since the very first Test in 1877, but over the past couple of years its relevance has been questioned with critics raising the matter of exaggerated home advantage.
In England, county cricket has made the toss optional for first-class games, with the visiting captain opting to bowl first if he wishes; however, if a captain wants to bat first, the toss is still required.
As expected, voices were immediately raised against the ICC’s pondering of scrapping the toss. Former India captain and spinning great Bishen Singh Bedi has opposed the idea, saying that tinkering with a 140-year-old tradition was not a sensible move. Another former India captain, Dilip Vengsarkar, echoed Bedi in raising the issue of cricket already being tinkered with too much. According to Vengsarkar ICC would be better off introducing neutral curators, just as it does with its elite panel of umpires and match referees.
Among those who have been critical of the toss are Michael Holding and Steve Waugh, who argued that it encourages home teams to produce pitches of their presence, which puts visiting sides at a disadvantage.
The toss has for nearly a century-and-a-half provided captains with an equal opportunity, and it is that challenge that adds to the allure of Test cricket. Whether this historical aspect of Test cricket gets ratified by ICC ahead of next year’s Ashes — which will be the starting point for matches that count towards the inaugural Test Championship — remains to be seen. But for now it appears a radical decision which will continue to divide opinion.