Heads or tails?
It's a simple question with huge consequences in a game of cricket, but one that might not be asked for much longer -- at least in the English county circuit.
The England and Wales Cricket Board announced Thursday a radical move that will see the mandatory coin toss scrapped before matches in its domestic four-day county championship, starting from next season. Instead, the captain of the visiting team will be given the option of choosing to bowl first.
If he takes that option, the toss will be rendered unnecessary. If he declines, the toss will take place.
The aim is to encourage county sides to produce better pitches, and ones that don't favor the home team. The ECB said another objective is to help England produce more spin bowlers, with matches more likely to last the full four days -- and therefore involve the need for spinners -- if there are better pitches.
The proposal was passed at an ECB board meeting on Thursday and will be introduced as a one-season trial, before being reviewed.
"Domestic cricket in England and Wales has provided a number of ideas that initially seemed radical --?but which have gone on to be accepted in the game worldwide," the ECB said in a statement, referring to Twenty20 cricket and the Duckworth-Lewis scoring method, among other things. "Now the 2016 trial of allowing the visiting team the option of choosing to bowl first, and forsaking the toss, will join that list of innovations."
The toss has always been part of county cricket since the championship was formed in 1890, and was also mentioned in the first recorded laws of cricket published in 1744.
But there is a growing feeling that too many matches are decided by the toss, and that home teams are producing so-called "result pitches" that suit their own bowlers.
Peter Wright, chairman of the ECB's Cricket Committee, said there "has been concern for some years about some Championship pitches."
But Wright added: "It is fair to say that the plight of spin bowling in this country brought things into focus. Figures showing that spinners bowled only 21.5 percent of the overs in the 2015 Championship were presented to the committee and we have come to the conclusion that the only way to bring spin bowlers more into the game is to provide better pitches for them to bowl on.
"By giving the away team the option of bowling first, we hope the home side will be encouraged to produce the best possible four-day pitch. That will be good for cricket in general, and not only for spinners: batsmen should also benefit, from better pitches which will lead to them facing more spin bowling; and if pitches start drier, the ball may scuff up a bit more and produce more reverse swing."
The recommendation for the idea came from the ECB's cricket committee, which includes England team director Andrew Strauss and former national team coach Andy Flower.