India versus Australia, 2001, captain Sourav Ganguly lost the toss in all three Tests. Ask Ganguly and he will admit it was the best series he has been a part of.
That the games are still discussed is because the winner emerged only in the final session of the final Test. It was riveting to watch how the home team managed to turn the tide mid-series.
In the epic Eden Gardens game, the second Test, India were trailing till the start of the fourth day and then rose to take the game. In the final Test in Chennai, everyone in the Chidambaram Stadium was tense till the final over, whether India would pull it off. The beauty of the game lies in its glorious uncertainties.
Talking from experience
Ricky Ponting, who was part of the series, advocates taking the toss out of Test cricket. The experience could have helped shape his opinion of how Tests might be better off without granting too much of an advantage to the hosts.
Ponting’s suggestion came after watching with frustration how a lot of teams have blatantly exploited home conditions. He spoke out after the England curators produced pitches tailor-made for Alastair Cook’s men.
England won the Ashes at home, courtesy Joe Root’s dazzling batting display, James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s superb bowling show. All five Tests produced a result, and the hosts, as underdogs, emerged triumphant 3-2.
Isn’t the script reading perfect? The Ashes should have caught the fancy of the cricket world. Somehow, it didn’t. It proved that it’s not just about results. Ultimately, the quality of cricket is what matters.
The crowds get involved for the contest in the sport. If there is no contest, there is no entertainment. A classic example was the 2005 Ashes series.
The series was about two opponents bringing the best out of each other, making the contestants stretch every sinew and take their game to a higher level. It was gripping stuff, not just for the result, but for every period of play.
The lack of drama in the just-concluded Ashes was glaring. It’s heightened when there is suspense over the winner till the start of the final day. Here, in most Tests, at the end of the first innings itself, the winner was clear. It’s led to a debate, whether this trend is benefitting the sport. Apart from Ponting, even Steve Waugh and Michael Holding said the longer format will be better off if the visiting team captain is allowed to choose.
No one knows the ground reality better than the men who make the pitches — the curators. Two of the most respected names — Daljit Singh and Sudhir Naik understand what Ponting is talking about.
Both Daljit and the outspoken Naik, a former India opener, say the game will be better off by implementing Ponting’s idea. "Earlier, India and the other subcontinent nations were accused of preparing wickets to suit them. Now it seems you go anywhere and it is being done. What they are doing is blatant," says Daljit, India’s top brain in ground and pitch preparation.
"The toss is part of the romance of the game, there is an air of mystery attached to it. (But) If a Test is over inside three days, it is not good for the game. The good team should win," says Daljit.
All over the world, home advantage is being exploited. As a result, there is no contest. If people are losing interest in Tests, this is a major reason.
Talking from experience, Naik, who was the Wankhede Stadium’s curator for many years, says, "Curators are instructed to prepare wickets as per the home team’s strengths. If you don’t, the curator is in trouble. He should not be under threat, let them do their job."
South Africa fear home treatment
Known for their heavy pace artillery, South Africa are travelling to India armed with three spinners. Their spinners are unproven, however, they are there because South Africa know what to expect. The wickets are likely to be tailor-made for R Ashwin and Amit Mishra to spin a web around the batsmen. On spiteful tracks, an average spinner might be more useful than a world-class fast bowler.
The South Africa pace attack has a proven record in the subcontinent, but this time they know how things are changing. It’s the trend world over — maximise home advantage.
Naik says South Africa’s prediction is spot on. "The system now is we prepare rank turners, so that 110% India will win. When South Africa come and play on rank turners, there will be no fight. What will be great about it?"
But, will it not get monotonous that the team winning the toss will bat first, especially in the subcontinent? "If there is no toss, India may prepare normal wickets and South Africa may not bat first. Even if India have to bat fourth, they will not be at an disadvantage on a last-day wicket also. Our batsmen have the skill to score 250 runs, but the South Africans and Australians can’t score more than 150," reasons Naik.
But, then the toss is a tradition which not everyone will be ready to give up. "It will be a huge decision, it is an age-old practice,” says Daljit. “It is up to the ICC. But then there have been so many changes. Who had thought colour clothing will come in and T20 will become so popular. It has all happened."