When making the wrong decision can leave you looking like a tosser

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WISE OLD cricket captains say that when you win the toss you should automatically bat first nine times out of ten and the tenth time you think hard about bowling first – and then bat anyway. England’s Joe Root decided to take his chances anyway – RON REED looks at whether history is on his side.

FOR A game that can last for anything up to 30 hours and five days, much importance – and sometimes controversy – is attached to something that takes no more than 10 seconds to happen. That’s the toss. The captain who wins it chooses to either bat or bowl first and the decision – if he gets it wrong – can come back to haunt him for the rest of his life, if it happens to be an important Test match.

Ask former England skipper Nasser Hussein who has never lived down his decision to insert Australia in Brisbane 15 years ago and then watched his bowlers take only one early wicket before Matt Hayden, 197, and Ricky Ponting, 123, batted for the rest of the day. Australia made 492 and won by eight wickets. In fact, Hussein was a bit unlucky because one of his bowlers, seamer Simon Jones, broke down after just seven overs and, if memory avails me, Hayden was nearly caught on the boundary early in his innings – who knows what might have happened if the hosts had been quickly two down. But they weren’t and Hussain’s misfortune has become a template of what not to at most Australian grounds unless there is a compelling reason to take the gamble.

Steve Smith tosses the coin as Joe Root looks on. Pic: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Steve Smith tosses the coin as Joe Root looks on. Pic: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

So England’s Joe Root put himself on the chopping block when he opted to bowl first in Adelaide. It was a attacking gesture, he said – which is usually the case when captains do this, Hussain no exception. But at the now magnificently developed Adelaide stadium – which many visitors regard as now being the most appealing cricket ground in the world, ahead of a list of contenders that would include Melbourne, Sydney, Lord’s, Cape Town and Barbados in my experience – it seldom occurs because the wicket is usually the best in Australia to bat on.

Of course, being a day-night, pink ball match complicated Root’s thinking because he has played in only one of those – against West Indies in England earlier this year – and never in Australia. He is the first captain ever to bowl first with the pink ball but it is a short history and a small sample with only six such matches having been played, two in Adelaide and Dubai and one in Brisbane and Birmingham. The teams batting first have won four of them but the two defeats were both in Adelaide. In other first class matches in Australia, only eight captains have inserted and six of them were beaten. In all Test matches in Adelaide, there have been 75 of them, eight captains have bowled first and only one team has won – the West Indies in 1982 — with one draw. The last English captain to do so was Bob Willis in 1982-83 and Australia piled up 438 and won by eight wickets. The last team to try it was India 25 years ago.

Root may or may not have been aware of all these statistics – England’s attention to detailed planning would suggest he would have at least known the profiles of the two after-dark matches at the venue – but there is one other obscure number that would have gone down well after the coin fell his way. In the last 20 Adelaide Tests, every team that has won the toss has either won or drawn the match. This is a bit of an anomaly. In a study of 2106 Tests up until late 2013, it was found that the successful tosser won 34.6 per cent of the time and lost 31 per cent with draws accounting for 34.3. Those figures would probably need adjusting now because draws are becoming less and less common.

With 34 overs elapsing before his four pace bowlers managed to take a wicket, Root was probably feeling uneasy about the controversial call.

 

AT LEAST Root had only one decision to make. When cricket began, winning the toss also entitled the captain to choose which pitch the match would be played on, which eventually became the responsibility of the umpires. While the actual coin flip is over in the blink of an eye, in first class cricket it’s not quite that simple. It must take place 30 minutes before play and at the side of the pitch, nowhere else.  It must be supervised by either the umpires or the match referee – the latter in Test cricket – as the home captain does the tossing and the visitor the calling and also exchange team sheets. Once the toss is completed, the match is deemed to have started even if no play is possible, which was the case when the 3rd Test of the 1970-71 Ashes tour was washed out without a ball being bowled at the MCG, which led to the birth of one-day cricket when a limited overs match was scheduled in place of it.

 

NEVER run on a misfield is one of cricket’s best-known unwritten rules but that didn’t save Cameron Bancroft when he took off for a run after Moeen Ali failed to gather David Warner’s prod into the off-side, only for Chris Woakes to run him out with a direct hit from side-on to the stumps from a few metres. His more experienced partner David Warner made the call then turned back, stranding his young accomplice. That made it 1-33 meaning Bancroft and Warner had been together for 206 runs following their unbeaten partnership of 173 in Brisbane – not that it would be much consolation to Bancroft for being dismissed in such a way after doing the hard yakka to get “in” against the pink pill.

 

MASSED ranks of Richie Benaud impersonators at all Test grounds are a great tribute to a great man but do we need dozens of Warwick Cappers dressed in No 39 Swans geurnseys and ash-blond wigs proliferating beyond Adelaide – wouldn’t think so. Linking the Wizzer with Richie at a cricket event is sacrilege. Apparently they’re from Melbourne – members of the Old Ivanhoe Grammarians football team.

 

 

IT SHOULD never be allowed to rain at the Adelaide Test, where thousands of people congregate on the lawns behind the main grandstand for some liquid socialising, some watching just the first few overs and never seeing another ball bowled. Pretty damp party this time – for a while. Once the rain cleared they seemed to be going harder than ever.  Adelaide has a good record with the weather – only two full days have ever been lost, in consecutive seasons in 1973-4 against New Zealand and 74-75 against England.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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