Decision Review System: Review everything or nothing … Just do something please ICC!

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!

Ashes 2013/14 Countdown Day 62: DRS madness!!!

The ICC announced yesterday that their solution to issues surrounding the use of the Decision Review System that came to a ahead in the Northern Hemisphere portion of the Ashes is to implement a trial during the upcoming Southern Hemisphere return series that sees two (2) additional reviews given to each team (assuming that team has exhausted its review allocation) after an innings reaches the 80 mark.

This is nothing more than a bandaid for a broader problem isn’t it? The issues that arose with the DRS in England were not that there weren’t enough reviews but a mix of poor technology, poor umpiring and limited understanding of what the laws actually say about the review process.

What happens in the coming series, for example, when there is a technology failure or when, after 57 overs and two failed reviews there is another “Broadesque” clanger? The same vitriol and negativity about the process would seem the obvious answer.

There is no quick fix for the problems that the Decision Review System has because the system is hamstrung by limitations in technology and, now, negative perception.

Instead of applying a bandaid, it is incumbent on the ICC to stand up and make the only decision really available which is to scrap the whole thing and go back to the onfield umpires being the sole arbiters of whether a batsman is in or out. Either that or institute a system whereby the system is used in real time to review every system.

One final thought: is the premier series of test cricket in the game really the right forum to test a “new” theory of how to fix the DRS? Seems like a recipe only for more disaster to me!

Cricket: Don’t like a DRS decision? Don’t blame the 3rd Umpire!

I have written a bit recently about various interpretations of the laws of cricket as well as changes I would like seen made to said laws. As part of my rereading of the laws for the first time since I had a crack at becoming an umpire nearly a decade ago, I have read for the first time the Playing Conditions as they relate to the Decision Review System (DRS). For those interested, you should check out Appendix 2 to the ICC's Standard Playing Conditions for Test Matches.

Now there has been much angst and, dare I say it, vitriol directed at the 3rd umpires in the current test series between England and Australia directed at decisions made upon review of decisions using the DRS. Considerable newspaper column inches have been used to lament such decisions and social media timelines have been swamped with responses to such decisions that have trod the length of emotions from mockery right through to hatred. That got me thinking about about the process that the umpires go through in undertaking a DRS review at the request of a player.

Let's take the now infamous Usman Khawaja decision in the 3rd test recently completed at Old Trafford. I think everyone concedes that the on field umpire got the original decision wrong and that the 3rd umpire got the review decision wrong. The question of how this happened has been hot on the lips of many including the Prime Minister, so lets have a look at what the Playing Conditions prescribe should happen upon a review being made.

Clause 3.3 of Appendix 2 of the Standard Playing Conditions is the key and provides (in full) as follows:

 

a) On receipt of an eligible and timely request for a Player Review, the on-field umpire will make the sign of a television with his hands in the normal way.

b) He will initiate communication with the third umpire by confirming the decision that has been made and that the player has requested a Player Review.

c) The third umpire must then work alone, independent of outside help or comment, other than when consulting the on-field umpire.

d) A two-way consultation process should begin to investigate whether there is anything that the third umpire can see or hear which would indicate that the on-field umpire should change his decision.

e) This consultation should be on points of fact, where possible phrased in a manner leading to yes or no answers. Questions requiring a single answer based on a series of judgements, such as “do you think that was LBW?” are to be avoided.

f) The third umpire shall not withhold any factual information which may help in the decision making process, even if the information is not directly prompted by the on-field umpire’s questions. In particular, in reviewing a dismissal, if the third umpire believes that the batsman may instead be out by any other mode of dismissal, he shall advise the on-field umpire accordingly. The process of consultation described in this paragraph in respect of such other mode of dismissal shall then be conducted as if the batsman has been given not out.

g) The third umpire should initially check whether the delivery is fair under Law 24.5 (‘fair delivery – the feet’) and under Clause 42.4.2(a) (‘full toss passing above waist height’), where appropriate advising the on-field umpire accordingly. See also paragraph 3.10 below.h) If despite the available technology, the third umpire is unable to answer with a high degree of confidence a particular question posed by the on-field umpire, then he should report that the replays are ‘inconclusive’. The third umpire should not give answers conveying likelihoods or probabilities.

i) Subject to paragraph 3.3 (j) below, specifically when advising on LBW decisions, the requirement for a high degree of confidence should be interpreted as follows:

i) With regard to determining the point of pitching the evidence provided by technology should be regarded as definitive and the Laws as interpreted in clause 3.9 (a) below should be strictly applied.

ii) With regard to the point of impact

– If a ‘not out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the point of impact is between wicket and wicket (i.e. in line with the stumps), the evidence provided by technology should show that the centre of the ball at the moment of interception is in line within an area demarcated by a line drawn down the middle of the outer stumps.

– If an ‘out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the point of impact is not between wicket and wicket (i.e. outside the line of the stumps), the evidence provided by technology should show that no part of the ball at the moment of interception is between wicket and wicket.

iii) With regard to determining whether the ball was likely to have hit the stumps:

– If a ‘not out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is hitting the stumps, the evidence provided by technology should show that the centre of the ball would have hit the stumps within an area demarcated by a line drawn below the lower edge of the bails and down the middle of the outer stumps.

However, where the evidence shows that the ball would have hit the stumps within the demarcated area as set out above but that:

• The point of impact is 300cm or more from the stumps; or

• The point of impact is more than 250cm but less than 300cm from the stumps and the distance between point of pitching and point of impact is less than 40cm, the original decision will stand (i.e. not out).

– If an ‘out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is missing the stumps, the evidence of the technology should show that no part of the ball would have made contact with any part of the stumps or bails.

j) In circumstances where the television technology (all or parts thereof) is not available to the third umpire or fails for whatever reason, the third umpire shall advise the on-field umpire of this fact but still provide any relevant factual information that may be ascertained from the available television replays and other technology.

k) The on-field umpire must then make his decision based on those factual questions that were answered by the third umpire, any other factual information offered by the third umpire and his recollection and opinion of the original incident.

l) The on-field umpire will reverse his decision if the nature of the supplementary information received from the third umpire leads him to conclude that his original decision was incorrect.

Now: having read all of that I have to say I have renewed appreciation for the process that the umpires have to go through in a short period of time under intense scrutiny.

That said: the biggest thing that I got out of reading the law is this: the 3rd umpire at no point makes a decision. That is right, read sub-clause (k) above again … it is the on-field umpire that makes the decision having asked questions of the 3rd umpire about the decision and received answers. Given the prohibition in sub-clause (e) on questions like “was it out?” it is obvious that the destiny of every DRS referral rests heavily on the questions being asked by the on-field umpire to the 3rd umpire.

If we return to the Khawaja example again: the role of the 3rd umpire in that scenario is to answer the questions posed by the on field umpire and feedback what he is seeing in real time. If the on field umpire wasn't convinced, and we have to assume that he was not, that what he was being told by the 3rd umpire was enough to show that his decision was wrong then he has NO option but to maintain the original decision.

All of this leads to this conclusion: the responsibility for a DRS decision still rests with the on field umpire armed with the extra information the 3rd umpire has provided him. So the next time you are baying for the 3rd umpires blood perhaps you ought shift your ire to the man in the white hat and black trousers on the playing surface because it is he who is actually making the decision!

The Ashes, 3rd Test, Day 1: Bucky, the Pup and DRS again

Cricket fans in Australia awake this morning, some more bleary eyed than others, to the news that Australia posted a more than respectable 3/303 overnight on the first day of the 3rd test at Old Trafford. Having watched the first 3 and a bit hours of play, I bunkered down in bed with dulcet tones of the TMS team and was able to push through until the last hour of play on what was another quality day of test match cricket.

Here are my 5 keys to the first day's play:

  1. Well played Bucky: If my timeline in the preamble to the game means anything a number of fringe and former NSW players were appalled at the failure by the selectors to keep Phil Hughes in the team and were questioning the position of Rogers in the line up. Not that he would have been aware of them, but this was an innings that will take the pressure from the pundits off in droves but will also have not been a surprise to many. Indeed, anyone who has watched Victoria in the Shield competition will have seen many of those shots he played last night over and over again before and will know that that is the form he is consistently capable of. 20,000 first class runs at an average of 50 do not lie and that is why this bloke is in the team.
  2. Oh Captain my Captain: Has there been a captain of any Australian cricket team who has been forced to perform under pressure more, and succeeded, than the current captain? Allan Border in the mid to late 80s comes to mind in comparison to Michael Clarke in this context and he did it again last night. In at 2 for not many with the beast that is the English bowling attack stirring he came to the wicket and then batted out the day. This was another quality innings from a bloke who does not get enough plaudits, from me included, for his toughness.
  3. DRS … again: Can we all agree that the 3rd umpire made a mistake in the Khawaja decision and get on with it? That seems to be what happened doesn't it: human error despite the technology caused a wrong decision to remain in place. Umpires are human and no matter the quality of the technology mistakes will happen. It is an interesting side bar that without DRS all three decisions reviewed and upheld last night would have remained the same. What would we have had to discuss then? Well, human error wouldn't we?
  4. Come in spinner: This pitch is already taking considerable spin and it is only going to take more as the game goes on. Enter N Lyon: many have been looking for that moment when Lyon will have the opportunity to bowl Australia to victory and whilst it might be looking the metaphorical gift horse in the mouth at this early stage at does look like that opportunity may be upon us here.
  5. Wake up fans: Why is it that in seemingly every ground in the world “fans” of the game do not have the cricket savvy to know when not to move? Obviously if the bowler is bowling from the end you are sitting at and you are sitting anywhere upto 50 metres either side and above the sightscreen you plant your ass and don't move till the end of the over. How hard can that be? The members at Old Trafford got it wrong last night and probably cost Australia a wicket.

All in all it was Australia's day and it was a day that Australia and its fans desperately needed after the debacle at Lords. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though: it is only the first day of five and Australia will need to be just as good tomorrow to keep this momentum going. Par score for Australia is now looking like 500 and with the Myth lurking in a situation seemingly taylor made for his cavalier approach and poor technique that target certainly looks obtainable.

Day two kicks off at 8pm Australian time, or in roughly 12 and a half hours for those not on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

The Ashes, Second Test Day 2: Don’t let DRS drama mask the truth

It has only taken seven days of this series for many Australian fans to return to the view that Australia is well behind England and will not win back the Ashes in England. The efforts of our tenth wicket partnerships in Trent Bridge masked some of the frailties in the Australian batting lineup that ought to have be obvious to all.

Simply put: Australia’s batting was not up to standard in the the first innings and, frankly, has not been for some time. Forget the batsman who come in at number 8 through 11: it is not their job to score runs for us and in recent times they have been doing that job. This issues did not just arise in Trent Bridge but has been a fairly constant refrain through Australia’s test cricket for a number of tests now.

Last night’s efforts from Australia’s top 7 were nothing short of woeful. Did anyone really get a good delivery that lead to their wicket? Shane Watson was dismissed because another bowler exploited his most obvious technical flaw. Chris Rogers missed a full toss. Usman Khawaja had a brain snap and hit one to mid off. Phil Hughes slashed at one a foot outside off stump. Steve Smith meekly gloved a ball to short length. There was no mystery in the English bowling: they simply bowled the ball at Australia’s batsman and even when it was not in the right areas the Australian batsmen contrived a way to get themselves out.

Much has been made on social media of the use of the DRS system by Shane Watson. Australian fans need to stop whinging about their players and start looking at the real frailties in Australian cricket. Whether the use of DRS was right or wrong arguing about it masks the fact that the batting order Australia has in England and has stuck with since the retirements of Ponting and Hussey is not up to the task at test match level.

I am all for seeking to bring young players through and for trying to develop talent from within the team. That said, a massive question hovers over some of the selection decisions that were made during the Mickey Arthur era that have flowed through into this team now. I am not talking about revisiting the past here: we must stop waxing lyrical for a return of Simon Katich for example. Conversely though here are some names of players who have performed in Shield cricket that have not received an ounce of the chances that others have: D Hussey, A Voges, A Doolan, P Forrest and J Burns. I am not saying that they would have performed any differently at Lords over night but the fact that they have not received a semblance of a chance in the test team is something that must be questioned.

Australia was 9/114 in the first innings of the first test match at Trent Bridge and was dismissed for 128 at Lords on a wicket described by all as a run machine. That is simply not good enough. It is time to forget the vitriol aimed at one player about his use of DRS and focus on just how poorly our top 7 is playing. There is not much Australia can do given that they have squad to select from in England and those players must be relied upon to at least try to get the job done. Equally, perhpas the Darren Lehmann era will proceed when he has the reigns in full back in Australia with the end of the careers of some of the players who have not performed in recent times and the elevation of those who have earned their chance in Shield cricket.

Only time will tell: until then, if nothing else, last night was a jolt to the expectations that Australian fans probably needed after those expectations were elevated by the events of Trent Bridge.

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.