The Proteas got the short straw with pitches in Sri Lanka, so perhaps it’s time teams took their own groundsman on tour, writes SIMON LEWIS.
I’m sure every cricketer around the world sympathises with Faf du Plessis and his Proteas teammates. To lose the toss twice when you’re playing away from home on tricky pitches that favour the home side’s cricketing DNA is a sickening blow.
There is a lot of luck involved in cricket, and most of the luck went against the Proteas in this series, it has to be said. There is a growing call (including from Faf) to do away with the toss in Test cricket and, instead, offer the visiting side the choice to bat or bowl first.
While this makes a lot of sense, it remains a hugely emotional issue, as the toss has been a part of the fabric of Test cricket since 1877. However, change is valid when it helps to bring about a fair contest between bat and ball, which is why we now have neutral umpires officiating in Tests, unlike in the 1980s and before.
Should the toss go? Considering that Sri Lanka twice won the toss and had the choice of conditions to suit themselves in both matches in the series then, yes, ditching the toss would seem the right call to make. The trouble with scrapping the toss is that the ICC turns with the speed of HMS Titanic when it comes to highly emotional issues that set veins throbbing among traditionalists, so what else can be done to make Test cricket a more even contest?
I think it’s time that teams were allowed to take their own groundsman on tour with them. I’m not suggesting that the visiting groundsman prepares the match strip, as that would take away from the challenge of beating another team under their own favourable conditions.
What would be fair is if the touring team had their own groundsman who traveled ahead of the squad and chose – and prepared – the wickets for warmup matches, as well as all the pitches to be used for net practice.
That would balance the scales considerably and help to create a more even contest, while still retaining the challenge of the visitors having to succeed in foreign conditions.
It would appear to be common practice for the home side to give visiting teams either sub-standard or inappropriate pitches before Tests, so perhaps that is the first line of attack in the battle for fair play. If the local groundsman prepares a pitch to favour the local team, and if the local team wins the toss then, oh well, deal with it. Accept it as part of the mystery and magic of cricket.
However, when you throw in the ‘gamesmanship’ of preparing practice surfaces for your visitors that deny them a decent chance to acclimatise to the local conditions, then I believe that is taking home ground disadvantage too far.
For the groundsmen who are taken on tour, this would serve as an incredible learning experience for them as well as the local ground staff they would work with. What a great opportunity for cultural learnings of other countries, and what a great benefit for the cricketing family of the world!
The traveling groundsman could be selected based on their performance during their country’s domestic season or, alternatively, a neutral groundsman could be tasked with providing adequate practice facilities, the same as we have neutral umpires.
Players generally take great care not to complain about poor practice facilities when it comes to playing in other countries, as they don’t want to create an international incident. However, that is exactly why the people who run cricket need to do everything that can to ensure we have a fair contest between bat and ball. That’s all that true cricket lovers ask for, and it’s what the players deserve.
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