Life’s a toss – until you win one

Just over 10 years ago Shaun Pollock walked out to toss for the first time as captain of South Africa in a Test series. The opposition were Sri Lanka, the venue Colombo.

Usually the thought process for a toss-winning captain in that country would be as complex as drinking a glass of water when thirsty. Even if you weren’t completely certain about batting first, you most certainly knew you didn’t want to bat last! So you batted first.

But this time it was a little different. The Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) was reknown for providing the country’s bounciest wicket and it had clearly been watered more than even the locals had seen before. But it was a baking hot day and would quickly dry to become a batsman’s friend. The question was, how long would the bowler friendly conditions last?

Pollock’s opposite number was Sanath Jayasuriya and he was obviously in as much of a quandary as Pollock. Both men still weren’t sure what they were going to do if they won the toss five minutes before the coin went up. They were both hoping to lose the toss!

When the match referee announced that it was ‘tails’ – and that the home captain had won – Jayasuriya looked calmly at Pollock and said with a straight face: “Ok, what would you like to do, Polly?”

Without missing a beat, the new Proteas captain replied: “Sanath, I will be very happy to do whatever you don’t want to do.”

Jayasuriya chose to bowl and South Africa slumped to 117-6 before the sun did its job and Lance Klusener rescued the situation with an unbeaten 95 to take South Africa to 279. The pitch never deteriorated and the match was drawn. Slowly. The toss, in fact, was one of the highlights of the contest.

Sometimes, the toss is critical to the outcome of the match, and sometimes it is completely irrelevant. But sometimes it could be crucial, even should be. And it is when those occasions are reversed, when the captain is denied the advantage he should have had by calling correctly at the coin toss, that can be even more rewarding for the vanquished skipper than when his team takes advantage of a winning toss in helpful conditions.

The first day of the Newlands Test should have belonged to India. The hosts really should have been bowled out for 250. The enormity of Jacques Kallis’ contribution will be seen in the fullness of the next four days, but at the close of play the Proteas had the satisfaction of having held back a potentially series deciding wave of seam bowling on a green wicket under leaden skies.

What will be will be, but the Proteas – especially Kallis – showed all the brutal and gutsy application in Cape Town that was so miserably missing in Durban.

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