Time to scrap the coin toss to save Test cricket, says Darren Lehmann

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Perth: Australian coach Darren Lehmann has called for the pre-match toss of the coin to be scrapped in a bid to save – and enhance – the health of Test cricket.
Nanjing Night Net

While respectful of the traditions of the sport, Lehmann has questioned whether a couple of the pitches the Australians encountered in England last year and in Sri Lanka in August “would have been quite as they were had we had the choice of batting or bowling”.

In his autobiography, Coach, to be released on Monday, Lehmann says the biggest threat to Test cricket remains the state of pitches – and abolishing the coin toss would ease this.

“I accept Twenty20 represents a significant challenge to that – and to the health of one-day international cricket, too – but the biggest challenge to the longest format, for me at least, comes not from Twenty20 but from the surfaces on which matches are being played,” Lehmann said.

“Put simply, those surfaces are either far too bland or, conversely, are far too heavily weighted in favour of the home side. In both instances, that does Test cricket no good at all.

“On the other hand, no one wants to see 600 plays 500 on pitches that offer the bowlers nothing. Producing tracks like that is the surest way to kill off the format.

“My solution to ensure the best possible pitches are produced is, at international level, to do away with the toss, with the visiting side given the option of whether they want to bat or bowl.

“That way the result is not decided by the toss of the coin, host boards have a greater incentive to produce decent pitches that are fair to both sides and the chances are that after five days the better side – rather than the one that has called correctly and thus been able to take advantage of favourable conditions – is the one what will come out on top.”

His comments come as Dean Jones, a Fairfax Media columnist and former Australian batsman, said he feared Test cricket “will be dead” within a decade unless there is major change.

Lehmann questioned whether the pitches used in three Tests in Sri Lanka – Australia lost all three – would have been “as dry and shaved” had Australia had the guaranteed option of batting first.

He also says the seaming pitches used in the third and fourth Ashes Tests last year, at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, “were so heavily weighted in favour of the home side that it helped to ease my conscience about our heavy losses to some degree”.

“Yes, we were not good enough in the key moments and we played the moving ball very poorly, but the pitches on which those matches were played could hardly be said to have produced an even contest between bat and ball,” he said.

Lehmann says day-night Test cricket is a “great innovation” but there needs to be recognition that it is not going to work in every country, and the pink ball needs to be “right”.

He is also in favour of Twenty20 internationals being phased out, outside of the World Twenty20. Players would be selected on their form in domestic Twenty20 tournaments.

This, says Lehmann, could strengthen the domestic tournaments, which could “run along the lines of a global tour, so that it runs in parallel with international cricket, similar to what happens with the rugby union sevens series”.

In a quirky aside, Lehmann says the atmosphere within the Australian team’s dressing room reminds him of the movie Con Air – and has revealed how sports psychologist Dr Michael Lloyd is used to combat this “edgy” environment.

“The dynamic within a cricket dressing room reminds me of the movie Con Air. In that film, starring Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich, a prisoner transport plane is taken over by the inmates … the plane is full of disparate characters and although all of them want the same thing – freedom – they all have their own ideas too. It makes for a dysfunctional and edgy environment to say the least. It might seem like an odd analogy, but in many ways it mirrors the situation we, as an international cricket team, find ourselves in,” he said.

Lehmann said Lloyd worked with the players to improve their game and to help build confidence in the team dynamic.

“There is no longer any stigma attached to the mental aspect of performance, at least within the Australian set-up. If a player is now seen around the team hotel or at the ground speaking with Lloydy, it is not a cause for everyone else within the squad to wonder: ‘What’s up with him?’ I think of it in exactly the same way as I would if that same player was sitting down with our batting or bowling coach,” he said.

“The players have certainly entered into that spirit too and, far from going to a quiet room with Lloydy away from curious onlookers, you will see them, quite often during our training sessions, walking around the ground with him, in plain sight, chatting away. He is not with the squad full-time; instead we work out a schedule between ourselves, alongside [team manager] Gavin Dovey and the captain, identifying times when we think he may be of most use.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.