No mandatory toss in the County Championship
In a departure from hundreds of years of cricket tradition, there will be no mandatory toss in either division of the English County Championship in the 2016 season, after the ECB confirmed they were implementing an experiment to try to encourage the development of spin bowling.
Instead of the toss, something that was recorded as taking place as far back as the 1700s, the visiting team will first have the choice of whether they want to field first. If they don't wish to take up that option the toss will take place as it always has.
There has been growing concern that the standard of pitches in county cricket - particularly in 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 that 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.
Initial reports about the move had centred on the trial being used only in Division Two of the Championship but, after a meeting of the ECB cricket committee at Lord's on Thursday, it was decided to implement it across the board in four-day cricket.
"By giving the away team the option of bowling first, we hope the home side will be encouraged to produce the best possible four-day pitch," Peter Wright, the chairman of the cricket committee, said. "That will be good for cricket in general, and not only for spinners: batsmen should also benefit, from better pitches which will lead to them facing more spin bowling; and if pitches start drier, the ball may scuff up a bit more and produce more reverse swing.
"It isn't all about spin. There has been concern for some years about some Championship pitches. But it is fair to say that the plight of spin bowling in this country brought things into focus.
"Of course counties want to win matches, and that generally means taking 20 wickets. That has to be a reason we have seen a lot of pitches that start a bit green and damp, and get better as the game goes on, rather than deteriorating to help the spinners. But another main function of the County Championship is to develop players for England. We don't think it has been serving that purpose for spinners.
"We did originally consider introducing this as a trial in one division only but, after further discussion and debate today, we have decided to extend this to both divisions of the County Championship. We believe this is an innovation which will be watched closely well beyond the County Championship. We will then need to assess how successful the trial has been at the end of the 2016 season before deciding whether to continue with this."
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. We need to do more to encourage spin bowling."