Uncontested toss set to be scrapped in bid for better county pitches

The ECB is considering restoring the toss to all County Championship games next season, removing the option to bowl first that is currently available to away teams.

The toss regulations were changed ahead of the 2016 Championship season, with the intention of encouraging home teams to produce better pitches. It was heralded as a success after its first year in place, with more games going into a fourth day and a higher proportion of wickets falling to spinners, but the average runs per wicket has declined in both divisions since then.

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The ECB’s cricket committee, chaired by Andrew Strauss, discusses such matters at the end of every season, and ESPNcricinfo understands that it will recommend a change to the ECB board at a meeting next month.

The introduction of the uncontested toss was generally held to be a positive move after its implementation, but with the Championship bookending the summer in recent years, producing Test match-style pitches with something in them for everyone has proved difficult.

Last season, the introduction of a heavier roller and a batch of Dukes balls with a less pronounced seam shifted the balance back towards batsmen slightly, but many games were still played on pitches that offered plenty of assistance for swing bowlers throughout.

In 2018, Kent’s assistant coach Allan Donald suggested that allowing the teams to “rock up” knowing they would bowl first was a poor way to produce international bowlers.

“I’m of a view that if you win the toss you should do what you need to do rather than rocking up knowing you are going to bowl,” Donald said. “I understand what the ECB are trying to do, but it doesn’t produce bowlers for Test cricket. We sat down with Cricket South Africa and formulated that [domestic games] should be played on proper Test cricket pitches.”

The ICC’s cricket committee discussed a proposal to scrap the toss completely in 2018 and give away teams the choice of what to do first, but concluded that it was an “integral part” of Test cricket.

The ECB change would form part of a general push to raise the standard of pitches in the county game, with several players suggesting that improvement was necessary during the Test in Mount Maunganui last week, England’s latest heavy defeat away from home. Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and Joe Root all suggested that pitches in the Championship bear little resemblance to those found on overseas tours, and that domestic surfaces need to become less heavily weighted towards bowlers.

Domestic pitches have come under close scrutiny in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Somerset were handed a 12-point deduction for next year’s County Championship for the track prepared for their title decided against Essex, while during Sky Sports’ coverage of the first Test, former England batsman Rob Key described county pitches as “a disgrace”.

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