The visiting team outclassed in unfamiliar conditions, twice being dismissed for less than 200; the match - barely competitive - hurtling to a conclusion inside three days. The above could describe either of South Africa's two most recent matches against Sri Lanka. In Johannesburg last year, a South Africa attack featuring four frontline quicks had scythed through Sri Lanka twice to record a victory of an innings and 118 runs. Now, in Galle, Sri Lanka's trio of spinners have dismissed South Africa for record-low totals to sweep to victory by 278 runs.
These kinds of disparate results are why Test cricket should do away with the toss and instead allow visiting teams to choose whether to bat or bowl first, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has said. South Africa have only recently become outspoken about creating made-to-order pitches at home, while New Zealand have also attempted to capitalise on their seam-bowling advantage by preparing very green tracks for Asian sides in recent years. In South Asia, meanwhile, teams have long produced tracks to suit themselves.
These practices are why the ICC cricket committee recently considered doing away with the toss, before eventually deciding to keep it. Du Plessis, though, wants a toss-less Test future.
"I'm a big fan of taking away the toss," he said. "I think even in South Africa you'll still prepare the conditions the way you prepare them now, but you just make sure that you bring some balance. In home conditions teams will still win the majority of the games, but you still do even it out a little. I think over the last two or three years away-records have definitely gone down, and games are finishing a lot sooner than they used to."
Matches have certainly grown shorter in Sri Lanka, which has just seen its 20th consecutive result Test - a record for any host nation. Spin played a major role in most of those Tests, with Sri Lanka preparing tracks to suit Rangana Herath in particular. New Zealand, meanwhile, have won 14 and lost only three of the 21 most-recent Tests they have played at home. India and Pakistan (who play their home games in the UAE) also have fearsome home records over the past five years, and are understood to also instruct curators to produce pitches that suit them.
"When I started playing Test cricket, 400s and 500s were happening quite regularly," du Plessis said. "So I'm not just speaking about subcontinent conditions. In South Africa games hardly reach the end of day four anymore. I think that's one of the ways you can make sure that balance is a little better."
Du Plessis' request to can the toss also comes amid teams finding ever more creative and intensive means with which to disadvantage an opposition. There have been several complaints in recent years that the pitches produced for practice matches the visiting teams play ahead of a series have been too dissimilar to the tracks encountered in the actual Tests. Du Plessis suggested the same had occurred in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka, and even hinted that South Africa should do the same.
"We played a warm-up game in Colombo which was on a flat wicket - it didn't spin. So you have to give credit to Sri Lanka for doing that well. That's some learning in that to take when we're playing in South Africa. The nets that we've been playing in haven't been spinning at all. So we could have even come a month earlier but if you're practicing on facilities that don't spin, you're not going to get what you get out there [in the Tests]."