Decision Review System (DRS): Taking maybe with a yes or no
- Technology in cricket went from enriching TV viewing to a full-fledged review system, and despite technology updates DRS still will have to live with grey areas
Cricket’s Decision Review System (DRS) has been some work in progress over the last two decades, performing a robust role to weed out umpiring errors but still very much an inexact science. The debate rages over the “umpire’s call” while questions remain over the ball-tracker technology with the current India-England series also throwing up some controversy over how inexperienced TV umpires have handled replays.
Technology though has come a long way since its humble origins as an enabling tool for umpires.
India were playing in the 2005New Delhi Test against Sri Lanka. The highlight of the opening day was the battle between Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan, after the hosts had elected to bat and lost two early wickets.
Tendulkar was determined to get to his 35th hundred and surpass Sunil Gavaskar’s Test record. Sri Lanka spin ace Muttiah Muralitharan was in his elements on a slow Ferozeshah Kotla track on way to a seven-wicket haul. Australia’s Simon Taufel, then rated the world’s best Test umpire, was officiating with Pakistan’s Nadeem Ghauri.
Those were the pre-Decision Review System (DRS) days, when it was safe to offer bat and pad at full stretch as the benefit of doubt went to the batsman in a leg before appeal.
Tendulkar - he did score century No. 35 - was tentative to start with and Muralitharan struck his pads a few times on Day 1. He went up in appeal when the batsman was on 33, 38, 51 and 75. Some were close calls, going by the changed norms after DRS came into force. Taufel and Ghauri though turned down those appeals.
On the second morning though, when Tendulkar was beaten trying to sweep the off-spinner and was struck on the pad in line with the stumps, Taufel raised his finger. Those days, if the delivery was from round the wicket, umpires invariably turned down the appeal.But Taufel’s assessment had changed from the first day.
Though DRS had not been put in place, the technology was available with the broadcasters if the umpires wanted to study. For Taufel, a student of the game, it presented an opportunity to study evidence from the opening day and change his approach to umpiring.
A seed had been planted. Today, DRS has forced batsmen to change their technique as the chance of their being given out is much higher.
It was around 2001 that ball-tracking technology debuted, to add to the TV viewing experience. “Although initially only a televisual and entertainment aide, umpires suddenly had a little more technology to learn from rather than simply relying on their eyes and experience. They began to see and understand that more balls than imagined were hitting the stumps,” former England skipper Mike Atherton wrote in his column in The Times.
Umpires were catching on in first-class cricket too. K Hariharan, then an international umpire, played a hand in making batsmen wiser to the new rules. In the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, he stood in a few games in Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy campaign, including their 2006-07 final against Bengal.
“Maybe, I was the umpire who started giving front foot leg-before decisions (in domestic cricket),” says Hariharan, who stood in 34 ODIs and two Tests between 1997and 2006. “Amol Muzumdar (prolific batsman and Mumbai captain in 2006-07) was among those who I had given (out). I did around five Mumbai matches in two seasons, and before the fourth or fifth match he came and told me: “I’ve changed my batting style, I am going to play more with the bat”. I told him: “You are really adapting”.”
Until then, batsmen knew it was safe to fully stretch forward with bat and pad close. Umpires would be reluctant to give out as they would consider the distance the ball would have to travel and its likely deviation.
Challenging pitches for batsmen in this India-England series and a spate of leg-before decisions has revived discussion on technique in this DRS age.
START OF DRS
India agreed to be the first team to be involved when DRS was trialled in their 2008 Test series in Sri Lanka. It proved harrowing. Home skipper Mahela Jayawardene combined with Muralitharan and new spinner Ajantha Mendis to effectively use the reviews, winning the series 2-1.
The India batsmen, including Tendulkar, were not convinced with the system, and the Indian board backed their opposition to DRS for their bilateral matches till future modifications persuaded them to accept.
It has been 13 years since its introduction, but issues remain over LBW decisions. Ball-tracking technology is debated over its prediction of the path the ball would have taken. The most contentious aspect has been the ‘umpire’s call’, a feature the International Cricket Council (ICC) added five years ago. It meant the on-field umpire’s decision will be retained if ball-tracking showed the ball was hitting the stumps.
Atherton writes that the ball-tracking technology has had the “most profound influence on the way the modern game is played, and has made life doubly tricky for batsmen in these type of conditions (on rank turners).When you add DRS to a challenging surface, you now get not only low-scoring games, but low-scoring games that finish in double-quick time.”
He points out the advantage batsmen had before ball-tracking technology was introduced. “Batsmen, therefore, had two lines of defence side by side, the bat and the pad; he could obscure the stumps, taking out bowled, and umpires would generally not give leg-befores on the front foot.”
The counter argument is that the batsmen are impacted mainly on rank turners. According to Hariharan, the rule still favours batsmen because if the impact is outside off-stump, it is not out.
More batsmen are dismissed leg before, but top batsmen seem to be coping better. There is not much difference in the record of Tendulkar compared to Virat Kohli and Joe Root. Tendulkar was LBW 63 times in 296 dismissals. Muralitharan (26 innings) and Monty Panesar (20 innings) got him out thrice each, and so did pacers James Anderson (27 innings) and Glenn McGrath (18 innings). The percentage is similar for Kolhi and Root. Kohli has been out LBW 31 times (142 dismissals), thrice to Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon (33 innings). Root has been LBW 31 times (173 dismissals). Spinners Ravindra Jadeja (20 innings), Yasir Shah (16 innings) and Shakib al Hasan (4 innings) have got him twice each. He has been out LBW to Aussie pacer Josh Hazlewood the most, thrice (24 innings).
Of the two aspects that make DRS less than foolproof, “umpires call” has been more contentious than ball-tracker. MCC’s (Marylebone Cricket Club, which forms the rules) influential World Cricket Committee took up “umpire’s call” in LBW decisions in this year’s meeting.
“Umpires call” confuses viewers, and frustrates one team, when a batsman could be out, or not out, depending on the umpire’s original decision. This element has also given bowlers a larger stump area to target. Earlier, more than half the ball had to be predicted as hitting the middle of leg- or off-stump, or the bails, for a LBW verdict. From 2016 end, half the ball only needs to clip the outside of the two outer stumps, or the bails. The Times commented: “It has made the stumps effectively half a ball’s diameter (3.5cm) wider on either side and on top. This has made the target area for the bowlers more than a third bigger than it was in pre-DRS days.”
“It (umpire’s call) is not required at all because when you are going with technology, you should go with whatever the technology says. Ball hitting the stump is out, except if the bail doesn’t fall, which is luck,” says former Karnataka player and umpire AV Jayaprakash, who stood in 13 Tests and 38 ODIs. Hariharan agrees.
Former BCCI umpires’ programme head, Stanley Saldhana, raises some fundamental questions. “DRS is being used for entertainment. Moreover, who is controlling the angle of the HawkEye or Virtual-Eye? How can somebody be very sure what is being shown to you is the fact? How are you sure this is the height, trajectory?”
The former Maharashtra Ranji batsman was also BCCI’s Game Development Manager from 2007to 2010.
England left-arm spinner Jack Leach, at the receiving end of an error by the TV umpire during the second Test defeat in Chennai, compared DRS to football’s Video Assistant Referee (VAR), saying it is “still controversial”.
Hemant Buch, Director, Live Cricket Broadcasts, suggests that technology perhaps is being pushed too far. “Ball-tracking was brought in for the benefit of viewers; it was just a guide for people to have a look and debate. Now you are using it to make absolute decisions. It will be far more accurate than the human eye, human eye gets one look; you (the umpire) have to look at so many things, and you always end up making a mistake and look silly. This (DRS) gives time to pause, look at four to five angles and then take a decision. They have got four super slow-motion cameras plotting it at every point in HawkEye. I will say it is very good… The umpire’s accuracy will be 60 to 70 per cent.”
Buch, speaking from Karachi while on assignment in the Pakistan Super League, said ball-tracker, barring exceptions, accurately plots the projected trajectory by tracking the ball from the point where it pitches and by how far it has travelled before hitting the pad. “How much more it can bounce, you can always calculate from the amount it has bounced.”
There are limitations though. “There are certain areas where the trajectory cannot be plotted; for example, when the ball bounces very close to the pad there is not enough time to track the data points. If it is a yorker, or when the ball pitches very close to the pad, the path is taken as straight on. It is (then) difficult to tell how the ball will behave, there is very little by which you can prove what will happen because it hasn’t happened. In these areas it is said to be a little iffy,” says Buch.
When player reviews and fresh technology were introduced, it was only to redress umpiring howlers. With ICC using technology as an absolute in decision-making, the focus is on DRS for the questions it raises than the answers it provides.