Cricket’s Decision Review System: a time for change?

The Decision Review System (DRS) is again in the press this week after the International Cricket Council’s Chief Executives Committee (CEC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

The CEC recommended to the Board of the ICC that the DRS system be universally applied and be mandatory for all Tests and One Day Internationals.  An important caveat was put the “mandatory” usage of this technology in that its usage is “subject to the Members’ ability to finance and obtain the required technology”.

Before wading into this debate, it is important to establish some key factual matters:

  1. The DRS is presently used when both combatants agree to its usage.
  2. The Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) has consistently declined to agree to DRS being used in fixtures it’s team is involved in.
  3. Presently, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board can not afford to use DRS technology and thus the present Sri Lanka v Pakistan Test Series being played in Sri Lanka is going without it.
  4. The current system for referrals to DRS sees each side have the opportunity to refer an unlimited amount of decisions of the umpires until they get two referrals incorrect.

The decision of the ICC CEC is obviously a step forward for cricket and the efforts of the CEC ought be acknowledged with acclamation.  The problem is: the decision does not mean anything will change.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. The BCCI have, since the announcement of the CEC’s recommendation and consistent with their previous practice, shown significant reticence to accept the use of the DRS technology in any form.
  2. There are cricket boards of control who simply can not afford the technology which means we will still see series occur where the technology will not be used.

I should declare here that I have no cavil with the BCCI using its power in world cricket to shape the game the way they wish it to be played.  Simply put, the present state of affairs is nothing different to when the MCC ran the game from Lords and the cards were stacked heavily in favour in the anglo-saxon teams.  Whilst I would prefer that a decision was made in the interests of the game rather than one particular team, they have earned the right, through the dollars that they bring to the game, to act in their own interests.

One issue that I am not fully across is why it is the each member board that is required to go to the expense of supplying DRS technology.  I would have thought it would be a natural extension of the ICC CEC’s recommendation that the ICC would foot the bill for making the technology available.  That issue is, perhaps, a topic for further exploration in a later post.

The fact remains though that we, as cricket fans, are likely to be in the same position as we were last year when it comes to the usage or otherwise of DRS technology despite the ICC CEC’s recommendation. 

That being the case, I have had pause to consider how the technology is actually used.  It seems to me that now is a time, whilst the use of the technology can only be considered to be experimental (given it’s semi regular use), to, on the one hand to ponder whether we ought be using the technology at all and, on the other hand, whether the technology could be used in a better fashion.

A regular theme of my writing on this blog has been the question of respecting match officials. The advent of the technology that lead to the introduction of DRS has been the catalyst for cricket officials being under more scrutiny than they ever have before.  Pre-DRS for every wicket there was 10 minutes of analysis of whether the umpire had gotten the decision correct.  This fact of itself it must be said has seen a diminution of the maxim “the umpire is always right” to the point that, on the question of no balls for example, we are increasingly seeing the umpires themselves questioning their own decisions. 

When I started writing this piece, my central premise was that if we could not have DRS everywhere because of financial constraints then the ICC board should decide to ban its use.  However on reflection and as my ideas have formed on the page I think that premise and argument is mistaken.  Removing the technology on a blanket basis will not stop the scrutiny on umpires nor the questioning of their decisions.  Indeed, if the present series in Sri Lanka is anything to go by, the questioning of umpires and their decisions will only increase in a non-DRS environment. That being the case, I am of the view that DRS should be used where it is available.

The question remains then as to how DRS ought be used.  The current system, being that the captain of each team can challenge the decisions of the umpires, is the epitome of failing to respect the decision of the umpire.  Simply put, I do not like it and I do not think it is good for the game.  The use of the technology ought not be at the election of the captains of either side. 

An option oft suggested is that DRS should be engaged in a review of each decision made on the field.  I do not agree with this for two reasons:

  1. A review of every decision will already make a day of cricket longer than it needs to be.  The long form of the game is facing challenges from many angles internal and external for viewership and extending play even longer will not make the game more popular.
  2. It is a very short step from a review of every decision to there not being umpires on the field at all. 

It strikes me that the best system has to be one that rests the control of the use of DRS technology in the hands of the umpires themselves.  Much like the system used for the Television Match Official in rugby league and rugby union, in the system for using DRS that I envisage the first port of call for any decision would be with the umpire however if the umpire is not sure then he can call for assistance.  In my DRS utopia, the umpire would have three decisions available to him:

  1. Give the batsman out;
  2. Give the batsman not out; and
  3. Refer the decision to the TMO.

I consider that having the umpire make the decision and then refer it only leads to more confusion and questioning of umpires particularly if the umpire’s decision on review is reversed.  If the umpire’s decision to refer forms one of the three decisions that can be made then the prospect of an umpire being overruled fades away.  If a referral is made it would then be solely the province of the TMO going on all the evidence he has available to him to make the decision.  

For example, it is a breezy day at the Gabba for day one of the 2014 Ashes: there is a packed house as fans are desperate to see whether England can compete with Australia having been beaten 5-0 in the 2013 series.  The first ball is bowled to Alistair Cook by Pat Cummins and whilst the umpire hears no noise the ball deviates after it passes the bat and a raucous appeal follows.  The umpire’s immediate thought would be (and for anyone wondering I have been an umpire at sub-district and school level) that there is doubt because he did not hear a sound.  If the umpire has the ability to refer the decision to the TMO he does it immediately WITHOUT making a decision because that doubt means he can not be certain Cooke hit it.   The TMO then makes the decision.

This is the system that the cricket authorities should be trialing whilst DRS technology is not available in every test playing country.  It is more equitable to all concerned and does not lead to captains of cricket teams being openly in conflict with the umpires who are supposed to govern how a game is run once the players enter the arena. 

All things being considered then it is my view that there is now an opportunity for the authorities to change the way DRS is used to make it both more effective and more respectful to those officiating the matches.  I have no doubt that they will not try using the system this way but one can only continue to hope that one day the interests of all stakeholders (including the umpires whose interests are so regularly kept out of the debate) will be considered in the great DRS debate.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Cricket’s Decision Review System: a time for change? | The Armchair Selector

  2. I like that idea in principle, but the problem is that is /has/ been tried before and not really worked. It was the version used in the Super ‘Test’ back in 2005 and what ended up happening was that the umpires simply reviewed every lbw appeal.

    I share your concern about the players respecting the umpires; but if we are going to take the ability to review out of the hands of the players (which I am not convinced is needed, but that’s separate matter) I think a better way would be to have the umpire make a decision and then have the third umpire quietly look at every one. If it is close and they need a longer look they can radio down to tell the on-field umpire to hold up play

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