Cricket for Americans: 1 Feb. 2019: Chance would be a fine thing

Cricket — especially Test cricket — is a relentlessly fair game. 99 times out of 100, the better team will win. Upsets are the rarest of the rare. You don’t get giant killings like you do in other sports. This has to do with how long the matches are, of course, as over five days the better team normally rises to the top, but also because the game removes that one thing that Davids have relied on against Goliaths throughout history: luck.

There is shocking little luck in cricket. Good or bad. The matches are engineered to the point where a good captain leaves absolutely nothing to chance: who to bowl from which end and when, where to place the field, who to drop, who to keep. There are no deflected shots spinning into the back of the net in cricket. Other than the occasional rainstorm which can save a draw for a team on their way to a loss, there is less luck in cricket than just about any other team sport. That’s just the nature of team games: you get that many people out on a field, strange things will happen. Just not in cricket.

Except of course for the coin toss.

Before every Test match, the two captains don their sport coats and head out to the center for the coin toss. With the winner deciding whether they want to bat or bowl first. I was thinking about that today as the West Indies ground down the English attack once again — Darren Bravo has been at the crease for an impressive four hours plus — and I remembered the coin toss yesterday: won by Jason Holder who chose to bowl on a pea green damp pitch that had his bowlers salivating, and they had England on the ropes, panting, right out of the gates. But then the worm turned, as they say, right about the time England went out to bowl, and they have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Windies but just can’t get them all out. And Bravo just keeps batting on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

If England had won the toss and were given the chance to bowl on that same friendly surface, does their attack scuttle the Windies in the same manner? Maybe. More than likely. The West Indies have a long tail and if those first few wickets fell, then it could have all been over before lunch.

But it wasn’t. Because of a coin flip. And so, in this case, you could say that a coin toss — the epitome of luck — decided the match.

Of course, that’s not entirely true, they still have to play the game, but it still had a rather large impact on the match.

There’s been talk of late to get rid of the toss altogether. To do what they do in England’s first class league: allow the visiting captain to decide whether they want to bat or bowl first. But, I don’t know, I rather like the coin toss. It’s tradition, of course, but more than that: it adds just a swipe of fate and luck into a game devoid of free will, of chaos. And I rather like that about it. Toss the coin, see how it lands, play the game.

Until tomorrow.

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