ECB considers ditching the toss in Division Two
The ECB are considering scrapping the toss in Division Two County Championship cricket in a bid to encourage counties to produce better pitches.
Instead of a toss, the visiting team will be allowed to decide whether to bat or bowl first. The hope is that it will encourage counties and their groundstaffs to prepare less bowler-friendly wickets in the knowledge that their opposition will have the choice of have to exploit them.
The idea, revealed by the Telegraph, has been recommended by the ECB's cricket committee and will now be discussed by the executive board. If the move is agreed, as seems likely, it could be introduced for the 2016 season.
There has been growing concern that the standard of pitches in county cricket - particularly in the Division Two - is compromising the development of players. Specifically, the role of spinners has become marginalised on surfaces that sometimes provide extravagant help to medium-pace seamers while batsmen, fearful they will receive an unplayable delivery sooner rather than later, have responded by playing more aggressively. As a result, some of the skills required to succeed in Test cricket - patience, discipline and consistency - have been lost.
Eoin Morgan, the England limited-overs captain, was enthused by the idea. "If it's to improve the standard of wickets that we play on, and potentially produce a couple of wickets where spin might be conducive to that particular ground, I think absolutely," he told BBC Test Match Special.
"The benefit in county cricket might not be at the very beginning, but potentially for younger guys coming through - they'll develop different skills which will in turn give them a greater base, if they do get picked for England, to play around the world and do it successfully."
As Andy Flower, the former England coach and now ECB technical director of elite coaching, put it recently: "The pitches are a real problem. We have a situation now where dibbly-dobbly bowlers like Jesse Ryder - and no disrespect to him, because he's a fine cricketer - are match-winners in county cricket.
"Spin bowlers don't develop because the medium-pacers bowl their overs and batsmen are not exposed to quality spin. The necessity for fast bowlers is negated because the medium-pacers do the work but, when you get to international cricket, the pitches are completely different and the qualities that proved successful in county cricket will be of little use. Dibbly-dobbly bowlers are not going to win you Test matches. Their abilities are exaggerated by green county pitches.
"You can watch a game in Division Two of the County Championship and not see a bouncer bowler. That's a problem, because the first thing that a batsman will be tested by in international cricket is the short ball.
"The pitches are contributing to the divide between county and international cricket and leaving us - the coaches at Loughborough - needing to bridge a significant gap in standard."
The ECB are especially mindful to produce more opportunities for spin bowlers. Peter Such, the ECB's lead spin bowling coach, recently told ESPNcricinfo: "In overseas Test cricket somewhere between 46-48% of overs are bowled by spinners, but in county cricket that figure is around 20%." At a couple of division two counties, that figure drops below 10% at home games.
"The pitches tend to start damp, which makes them seam-bowler dominated and makes it very hard for spin bowlers to break through," Such said. "We need to do more to encourage spin bowling."
If the trial is successful, it is possible it could be expanded to include Division One cricket and perhaps, in time, even Test cricket. It is has become relatively rare for sides to win Test series away from home and some feel that such a move could play a part in correcting the imbalance.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo