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Transparency at the Toss: Reforming the Protocols at Televised Cricket

April 9, 2015

Michael Roberts

TOSS AT SCG Pic from www.ft.lk

At the World Cup Match between Australia and Sri Lanka at the SCG on the 8th March 2015 the designated home team captain, in this case Michael Clarke, tossed the coin by stepping away from the cluster so that the florin landed some distance away. The Match Referee, Jeff Crowe, walked over and indicated that Angelo Mathews had called wrong. So Clarke and Australia were able to bat first on what turned out to be “a gem of a batting pitch[i] (undermining the pitch-readings of the several ‘experts’ as well as the hopes of the Sri Lankan team).

Once the match was done and dusted, however, one Sri Lankan chain-mail ‘blogger’ raised questions about the tossing result: claiming that Clarke’s move was a deliberate ploy designed to win a crucial call. Though not asserted explicitly, this outrageous allegation implied that Jeff Crowe was part of a conspiracy. Such accusations cannot be sustained. As Michael de Zoysa told me (on Skype, 7 April 2015), Jeff Crowe is a gentleman through and through, his rectitude impeccable.

As it happens, Jeff Crowe was at the centre of a right-royal tossing mess up at the Wankhede Stadium at the finals — finals no less — of the 2011 World Cup on 2nd April 2011. On this occasion Dhoni was the home team captain and Sangakkara was captaining Sri Lanka, while the stadium was reasonably full and, it is said, quite raucous.

MUMBHAI TOSS 2011--Getty Amiable confrontation at Wankhede Pic from Getty

Confusion reigned at the toss.[ii] An ESPN report on the event is repeated below, but for my purposes here the sequence is best spelt out in point -form.

  1. Dhoni tossed and Sangakkara, with head slightly bent, called heads.
  2. Though the TV crew in the operational room heard the call clearly, both Crowe and Dhoni as well as Shastri, the TV compere at the toss, heard the call.
  3. In the result, the toss was repeated all over again.
  4. Sangakkara called correctly again and decided to bat first.

In retrospect it has been my conjecture that Sangakkara and the team’s brain’s trust tossed the game away. The dew late in the evening was such that India was able to chase down Sri Lanka’s 265 run total with some measure of comfort. It would have been a good toss to lose because Dhoni indicated that India too would have batted first.[iii]

That is by the by. What is required now are some reforms in the toss protocols. The ICC must not permit chaos of this kind at crucial events in a contest and/or give room for the rectitude of the Match Referees to be brought under the gun. Transparency of process must be at a premium. Some simple principles can be set up to bring about such a set of procedures.

  1. The Captain-Tosser must be instructed to toss the coin within close distance of the official cluster.
  2. The Captain-Caller must be instructed to shout loud and clear.
  3. The Captain-Caller and Match Referee must be wired with audio-sound.
  4. The TV Cameraperson must be instructed to pan his camera over the florin to show the world how the coin has landed before the Match Referee picks it up.

Simple really, one does not need Sherlock Holmes or even Watson to resolve this puzzle.

***    ****

ESPNcricinfo staff:  Toss taken twice after confusion over call”, April 2, 2011

The World Cup final ran into confusion before the first ball was bowled. The coin had to be tossed twice after the match referee Jeff Crowe said he had not heard Sri Lanka captain Kumara Sangakkara’s call the first time. The Wankhede Stadium was not yet filled to its 33,000 capacity, and the noise was yet to reach its peak. Commentator Ravi Shastri, who was hosting the toss, said it had fallen heads the first time. There were then a few moments of confusion as Crowe said he had not heard the call and so the toss that had been carried out was null and void. When MS Dhoni threw up the coin again, Sangakkara called ‘heads’ and the coin fell Sri Lanka’s way.

Replays of the toss indicated that Sangakkara called heads the first time as well, and the call is audible to producers of the host broadcasters ESPN-Star Sports. Sangakkara’s head was lowered when he called. However, Dhoni appears to have heard it as a tails call, and he turned towards Shastri saying, “We’ll bat”. But neither Shastri nor Crowe had heard Sangakkara’s call, Crowe due to the noise and Shastri because he was looking up at the coin. When Shastri looked across to Crowe, the referee said, “I didn’t hear it.” There was then a brief conversation and it was decided the toss had to be held again.

Crowe was also the match referee at the 2007 World Cup final when the teams went off for bad light but were to forced to return and play out the remaining overs in darkness. He had overseen a mistake by the officials that led to the game resuming in near total darkness. The officials had forgotten that, as 20 overs had been bowled in the second innings, a result could be declared. Crowe, when pressed at a post-match news conference, blamed that error on now retired South African umpire Rudi Koertzen, who was the television replay official for that match.

© ESPN EMEA Ltd.

        CITATIONS FOR MAIN ARTICLE

[i] Andrew Ramsay, “The Six Moments that Mattered,” 9 March 2015, http://www.cricket.com.au/news/five-memorable-moments-australia-sri-lanka-scg-cricket-world-cup-andrew-ramsey/2015-03-09.

[ii]   ESPNcricinfo staff: “Toss taken twice after confusion over call,” 2 April 2011, http://www.espncricinfo.com/icc_cricket_worldcup2011/content/story/509133.html.

[iii] Michael De Zoysa disputes my reading of this match and the emphasis on the dew factor. In his reading Sri Lanka lost the match because (a) Murali was nursing an injury and should not have played so that Sri Lanka could have deployed another bowler or bowling allrounder; (b) Sangakkara erred in removing Malinga from the attack when he had Tendulkar in trouble;  and (c) Sri Lanka dropped two catches at critical moments.

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