Let’s chuck the coin toss

We can have many alternatives to the coin flip in sport by now. How about an arm wrestling bout? Or spin the bottle?

English captain Stanley Jackson won six tosses (five Tests and a club game) in a row against Australia in 1905.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

In the Ashes series of 1905, the English captain Stanley Jackson won six tosses (five Tests and a club game) in a row. Disgusted, his Australian counterpart Joe Darling was “stripped to the waist at the Scarborough Festival when his team suggested a wrestle for choice of innings,” as Ray Robinson writes in his book on Australian captains.

Darling, built like a wrestler, was nicknamed “Paddy” owing to a supposed resemblance to the Australian boxer Frank “Paddy” Slavin.

Jackson, a future governor of Bengal, knew both his cricket and his diplomacy and suggested that he might send the better built George Hirst to act as captain (and wrestle), whereupon, writes Robinson, “Joe concluded that Australia’s chance of batting first would be as good with a coin as a cross-buttock.”

Thus was imagination and originality stubbed out.

Rock, paper, scissors

More recently, history repeated itself, and once again imagination and originality were stubbed out. It happened in a Women’s Super League football match in England between Manchester City and Reading. There was no suggestion that the opposing captains should wrestle to decide who should kick off. But the referee, who had left his coin in the dressing room, improvised, asking the captains to play the children’s game of rock, paper, scissors to make the call.

Rather than reward his originality and award him football’s version of the Victoria Cross for grace under pressure, the Football Association suspended the referee — David McNamara is his name — “for not acting in the best interests of the game.” This is unfair, for he had done the exact opposite, acting in the best interests of the game, ensuring there would be no hold-up or flare-up.

And he did get City’s captain Steph Houghton and Reading’s Kirsty Pearce to play a game of rock, paper, scissors. Peace, where there might have been discord, if not a walkout.

Sports should be fun

We sometimes take sports too seriously, forgetting that fun is an important element, and if a referee wants to contribute to the fun, so be it. Some years ago, at an A-League football match in Australia, the referee got the captains to pull Christmas crackers in lieu of a toss. He wasn’t banned or suspended or shot at dawn. Some folks do recognise the fun element.

If it weren’t such a capital punishment-worthy crime, we would have had many alternatives to the coin flip in sport by now. How about an arm wrestling bout? Or spin the bottle? A staring contest between captains perhaps, or a pick-the-highest-card from a deck. The possibilities are endless.

My wife once accurately guessed the number of tennis balls stuffed into a locked car at a shopping mall in Bangalore, and as a result, the two of us, our son, my wife’s mother, her sister, her brother-in-law, nephew and the nephew’s two friends from university were all given a free holiday in Goa.

Surely that same technique can be used to decide who kicks a ball first or which end of the ground is chosen. It worked for us!