Monday, 18 February 2013

DRS: manifest destiny

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...


Russ said...

Jon, this plan for the DRS is becoming more popular, but I cannot see it working. (It was, to a degree tried in the Ryobi Cup this year).

Firstly, there is no way to know a decision is uncertain unless it is reviewed. The time will add up. Secondly, the decision that is uncertain is also the decision that needs the most time to review, is the hardest to make a firm judgement on, and is the one where a reasonable early call would have been sufficient. So it takes us down the path of more reviews and more time making decisions, without necessarily a better clarity of judgement. TV/Hawkeye/Hotspot/etc. as we've often seen, is not a better point to make a decision off, merely another view-point. Thirdly, the current fake uncertainty of -eye in its "Umpire's Call" is only relevant when the umpire has made a call. In a circumstance where a large part of the ball is hitting the stumps but it is given not out based on uncertainty, the rules of cricket themselves are being re-written. Conversely, should we rely on the actual certainty of the -eye then we'll see many more decisions in favour of the bowler.

I am in favour of removing reviews. But I would also do my utmost to remove the third umpire. In this modern age, it would not be difficult to convey the information on which the technology is absolutely certain to the central umpire (via a smart-phone for example) for them to check in an instant.

If the technology cannot determine, without input from a user, within an instant, that a particular event occurred (be that a no-ball, an inside, or outside edge, or the likely projection of the ball) then it will offer little certainty with repeated viewing. Better to decide what is known, what is unknown, tell the umpire both, and let them use their judgement.

The technology of the future will only improve (and decision-making with it), but a slow, broken system will remain slow and broken forever.

The Old Batsman said...

As ever, agree with much of what you say here Russ. But I think it would be a sort of logjam at the front when the process started but it would soon speed up as everyone got a grip on what did and didn't require extensive scrutiny. In the end, if you agree with DRS, which I do, there's no perfect system, but there has to be a better one than the current.

Tim Newman said...

I've not got much of a problem with the DRS and how it's implemented. As you say in your post, it's original aim was to correct the obvious howlers, and it does that. All the rest of the quibbling over the marginal out/not out is as part of cricket as the bat and ball, regardless of whether technology is used.

Put another way, I'm not bothered if somebody is out/not out on a marginal call. But I am bothered if somebody is out when he blatantly should not be.

thecricketcouch said...


In the Kallis situation, Bowden was plain wrong. He didn't enforce the DRS rule as it was supposed to be. Once the mode of dismissal that the player was given out on, is shown to be wrong, the 3rd ump can actually look at other modes of dismissal but he starts as if the on-field decision was not out (That's the DRS rule now). So, Billy had followed that, the LBW as per the technology was an umpire's call, which then would have meant, Kallis was not out.

Cid said...

I'm not certain you need to apply DRS any more than it is currently to clear up incidents like this. A very minor clarification of the law is what's needed: following a DRS appeal, should an in/out decision be adjudged incorrect by the third umpire, but the evidence shows irrefutably that the batsmen should be given in/out for another reason, the third umpire has the authority to give the batsman in/out. In other words, what Billy Bowden did would become correct - but you would still require a DRS appeal from on the field to activate this new law.

It would swiftly remove the ambiguity without increasing the use of DRS any, and likewise without causing the on-field umpires to worry that the all-seeing eye is constantly looking over their shoulder at every ball (even if, in your system TOB, the umpires rotate). The three umpires would have equal authority, but the TV umpire would only come into play as he currently does.

cricketbash said...

There has to be a better than the current system. People crying hoarse about the compulsive implemenatation and BCCI's vehemence are not without self-contradiction..

I'm afraid, the technolgy can't be implemented unless improved..I did an article on hotspot. I would soon write one on DRS..