The Decision Review System was again in the spotlight yesterday following reviews of dismissals of Steve Smith and Joe Root. Whether you believe either player was out probably depends on the team that you support however two immutable truths came out of what we saw yesterday:
1. The umpires, regardless of the decision made, used the system correctly.
2. Truth number 1 is the best example of why DRS is one of the bricks in the wall that is ruining our game.
I have written before about rules that I believe the fans of the game want to see to changed, the DRS laws are not the only ones. I have also written about the importance of playing the game in accordance with the laws of the game as they stand at any particular time.
That hope for change and respect for the laws of the game have lead me to an interesting position when it comes to the future of DRS: either all decisions must be adjudicated via the DRS technology or none at all.
My rationale for reaching this conclusion is three fold:
1. Cricket is a game, on the field, that is governed by humans. Humans, whether they are behind the stumps and up in the TV booth at television official, make mistakes. it is the very nature of human beings that mistakes are going to be made and technology that, of itself, requires a human interpretation is not going to rid the game of such human error.
2. Is it not incongruous to the ideology of fairness that is a cornerstone of the rules and spirit of the game that only a limited number of dismissals are reviewed. Surely, an even playing field across all dismissals is within the spirit of the game and thus to uphold that spirit all dismissals should use the available technology or none at all.
3. The genesis of DRS was the ever improvement of technology via the television broadcasters (particularly Channel 9) that lead to a reduction, in my view, in the confidence of fans have in officials and an increase in the levels of dissent showed to the decisions of those in the middle. The lack of respect for match officials is a pox on our game, the other sports played around the world and society in general. To me, regaining that respect for decisions requires a consistent application of the laws via the all or nothing approach I advocate.
My personal opinion is that DRS should simply be scrapped and cricket should revert to the decisions resting with the on field umpires. That is what happens at every other level of the game from juniors through to first class cricket so I question why at the top level the players are entitled to any special treatment.
It only became obvious to me during a particularly robust discussion around the dinner table that that position will never happen though. The reason is simple: the television broadcasters led to the need for DRS by the ongoing analysis of the decision of umpires and the creation of doubt. Now they are the biggest critics of the system and spend even more time in analysis of decisions. Why would they want a system that gives them fodder to discuss the game to go away?
I recall watching a block of highlights of test matches from the early 1990s the other day and seeing LBW decisions given that would not have hit another set stumps let alone the stumps in play. The commentators spent no more than the time between balls and the remainder of the over commenting on it and even then the comments had none of the vigour of what we see now. Richie Benaud never used to spend 20 minutes at the tea break questioning one decision.
Until those who broadcast the game get on board with the primacy of decision making of umpires, we are never going to see the end of DRS so, whilst my personal view is that it must go, I suggest we give Channel 9 et all what they want and just refer everything to DRS. Better yet: why don’t we put the commentators in charge of the “red button” and be done with the third umpire all together. I bet the ICC and the home administrators could make a pretty penny out of that!