ECB tosses coins in major rule change

In an outside-the-box rule change, the pre-match coin flip may not be required as the England County season gets underway

Under a bold rule change, one of the game’s oldest rituals could be tossed aside in English Country Cricket this season.

In all English County matches this season, the captain of the away side will have the option of bowling first without having a toss.

Should they elect to do so, the away skipper merely has to inform the umpires and the home captain, exchange team-sheets and the coin will remain unflipped.

The coin toss hasn’t been scrapped completely from four-day cricket; if the away captain believes conditions don’t suit bowling first then the familiar flick of currency will proceed as normal.

The move came on the back of a recommendation from the ECB's cricket committee, which includes England Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss and former national coach Andy Flower.

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It is designed to encourage better-prepared pitches that are more favourable to spin-bowlers.

"There has been concern for some years about some Championship pitches," committee chairman Peter Wright said last November.

"But it is fair to say that the plight of spin bowling in this country brought things into focus.

"Figures showing spinners bowled only 21.5% 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."

The quality of pitches for domestic matches in the UK, in Division Two of the County Championship in particular, have been of concern to the ECB for some time.

There’s been a school of thought that clubs in the lower rung of England’s first-class structure purposely prepared seaming pitches in order to ensure a result. The top two Division Two clubs at season’s end were previously promoted to Division One. In 2016, only one team will advance.

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The construction of greentops has the effect of negating the role of spin-bowlers, whose skills are ill-suited to the grassy decks. It also inflates the bowling statistics of accurate medium-pacers, whom often lack the necessary pace for Test cricket.

No spin-bowler in Division Two finished in the top 15 wicket-takers in 2015. Warwickshire’s Jeetan Patel, a New Zealander, was the only spinner in the top 30 Division One wicket-takers.

A shining light amongst English tweakers last season was Adil Rashid. He picked up 29 wickets in just seven matches but his Yorkshire captain, Andrew Gale, voiced his opposition to the rule change.

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Gale, who has led the county to back-to-back division one titles, agrees spin needs to play a bigger part in the English game but, for a number of reasons, doesn’t believe scrapping the toss is the answer.

"I think generally Division One pitches, 90 per cent of the time, are really good wickets, " Gale told the ECB website. "It was only when I played that one season in the second division that I found it hard work.

"The wickets were seaming all over the shop – you’ve got medium pace bowlers running in and bowling teams out.

"I can see what the ECB are trying to do, trying to encourage spinners in the game. I just think it’s the wrong way to do it.

"Given that we’ve got six Championship games before the end of May, and three Championship games in September (when the English weather is coldest), I’m going to find it hard to throw the ball to Adil Rashid when it’s six degrees and he’s blowing his fingers trying to get them warm.

"I just think if (the ECB) had nipped it in the bud earlier, with some of the wickets around the country, then we wouldn’t be in this position. "

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Scott Borthwick, Durham’s leg-spinning allrounder who was handed his Test debut in the final Test of the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, is in favour of the change.

Borthwick played every Championship game for the north-east county, and while he held his spot with the bat – with 1286 runs to be Durham’s leading run-scorer – he only bowled 149.1 overs despite normally being their No.1 spin option.

That was partially due to the Riverside Ground’s noted tendency to favour pace-bowlers. Spinners like Borthwick were denied the chance to bowl on waring second-innings pitches, but also because, as Gale alluded, of the cold English weather.

"This time of the season it's quite tough, with your fingers feeling a bit chilly,” Borthwick told Sky Sports.

"Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali bowled well in the World Twenty20, so hopefully it's promising - there's quite a few spinners around now so hopefully we can take a few wickets.

"Later on in the summer when teams are batting first, hopefully we'll get some dry wickets and I can come into my own at the end of games, bowling some 20 or 30 over spells I am not very used to here.

"If we do tend to bat first here (at the Riverside) then I might have a chance to bowl in the second innings."

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Whether Borthwick, and other spinners around England, get that chance more often remains to be seen.

The ECB believes the changes will encourage counties to prepare wickets that favour turn on the third and fourth days of matches.

Lancashire head coach Ashley Giles, who took 143 Test wickets with his left-arm spin, also sees the change as a positive move for spin-bowlers.

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"I think it’s something worth trying, " he told the ECB website. "There have been issues with the pitches in the last few years, and that in combination with the dearth of spin bowling in the country, I think it’s a good option.

"If it doesn’t work, we can change it back. But I don’t think it’s that drastic that it’s going to have that big an effect on sides.

"The only variable is some of these grounds with overheads – maybe the likes of Lord’s and Trent Bridge, certain days you turn up and you know you’re going to bowl because of what the clouds are doing. But I think that’s a risk worth taking.

"Both in this job at Lancashire, and my previous job at Warwickshire, my teams have played on pitches that aren’t conducive to preparing players for England – and whether it be spin or otherwise, that’s what we’re here for surely.

"We’ve got to be preparing guys to play at the very highest level – and if you’re preparing bad wickets, it’s not going to help."

The first round of County Championship matches begin today.