Ah dear DRS, what a week you've had... All of us on your case, apologies issued at close of play, batters and bowlers, commentators and fans, equally disgruntled. And all you've done is exactly what you've always done: offered up that empirical evidence for us quirky, unpredictable, emotional humans to translate however we choose...
It could have happened in any week, it just happened to happen in this one. And it will keep on happening because what we are seeing are not flaws in the technology, but in its application. Even for a game as deeply idiosyncratic as cricket, DRS works idiosyncratically.
Its inception is odd for a start, because each piece of it - the pitch map, hot spot, its predictive element - was developed for another purpose: TV and the enlightenment of its viewers. As soon as it became obvious that the couch-bound layman had access to the game in a way that the players, umpires and people in the ground did not, its advancement was inevitable. That remains an awkward starting point.
The deep fault lines within the system still exist. The Schrodinger's Cat principal that a batsman can be both in and out to exactly the same ball; the politicisation of decision-making by involving the players; and the arbitrary limit on the number of correctable mistakes via the two unsuccessful appeals per team rule are rarely questioned, yet they are intrinsically odd.
But it's the other founding principal, that DRS exists to avert 'obvious howlers', that also needs to be challenged and struck out. DRS is being used by the umpires as a finely-calibrated tool to make borderline judgements in every game.
Under the current adversarial system, a dismissal like that of Jacques Kallis in the first innings of the Newlands Test against Pakistan is wrought with unfairness. Kallis was given out caught at bat-pad by the on-field umpire, and then leg before wicket by the third official. But that unfairness originates from the system, not the evidence provided by the technology.
Let's reconsider that decision under a revised system in which the umpires and the technology are given their head. The new rules are simple. The two on-field umpires and the third umpire are a revolving team, taking it in turns to move to the TV box session by session. On appeal, the standing umpire makes a provisional decision. If it contains an element of doubt, the third umpire reviews it immediately as a matter of course and an on-field signal is made to convey that fact to the players. Working in partnership, the umpires discuss and review the technical information. Errors are immediately rectified. Questions of where the ball pitched, whether it struck the batsman in line and whether it was hitting the stumps are given a definite parameter - was the centre of the ball landing on/hitting the right spot - and a decision is made.
Here, the source of the original decision against Kallis would be irrelevant. Whether he was out caught or LBW in itself would not be contentious, because the system is simply trying to arrive at the correct decision: was he in or out?
In Kallis's case there seemed to be an element of grandstanding from Billy Bowden, the third umpire, who decided that although Kallis hadn't hit the ball, he was still out leg before wicket. There should be some sympathy for Billy here. Under the current system, the third official has no individual freedom to give a decision, despite that official being a member of the elite panel and a part of the officiating team at the game. Yes, there may have been an element of ego in Billy taking on an adjudication that was beyond his remit in the playing conditions, but it is what he's used to doing. It goes against the instinct of an umpire to give what he feels is an incorrect decision because he's bound by an illogical rule.
If Bowden had been part of a team moving on and off the pitch and into the box session by session, and had been able to discuss with Steve Davies what he had seen not just in the light of Davies' initial judgment but as part of a team making a single decision, the outcome might have been correct. Under the system suggested here, the only decision that Bowden would then have had to make would have been whether the centre of the ball was going on to strike the stumps (it wasn't so Kallis should have been adjudged not out).
There are flaws in this framework too. By handing each team two reviews, the ICC can conveniently limit the number of decisions under technological review. This saves time. Under a freer system, it's inevitable that almost every decision would be reviewed. Yet the ones that currently go unchallenged would be quickly sorted, and the nonsense of a team that has exhausted its reviews on a couple of borderline appeals and is unable to then right an obvious injustice would be over.
The principals of DRS should simply fall in line with the abiding ethos of umpiring. It is there to be impartial and fair to both teams. It is there to make things right. It deserves to be given the chance to do so.
Even the BCCI might like it then...
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