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Will not walk: Stuart Broad. Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP
Will not walk: Stuart Broad. Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP

Cricket | DRS needs review

A review of the DRS may be in order to reach full compliance

The first Ashes Test, won narrowly by England on Sunday, had votaries of the Decision Review System (DRS) in a lather and—I would imagine—its opponents thumping their chests with a brazen, “We told you so."

It had been a seesaw, riveting match with Australia going “down under" by 14 runs. With a little luck, the result could have been the opposite for Michael Clarke’s side, rank underdogs who had fought brilliantly. Under ordinary circumstances, this lack of luck could have been ascribed to the vicissitudes of fate. But this time, it was plain that the influencing—even blameworthy—factor was the technology-enabled DRS and more pertinently, how it is being used.

Two incidents highlighted the bugs in the DRS. First, Jonathan Trott was given out leg before wicket in the second innings by the third umpire, who overruled the on-field umpire. This came without having the benefit of a crucial frame from HotSpot, the infrared imaging system, which was then engaged in providing a replay to the host broadcasters, leaving the third umpire in the lurch as it were. The International Cricket Council (ICC) and HotSpot creator Warren Brennan were prompt in issuing an apology to the England and Wales Cricket Board, but that could hardly save Trott or England.

What did—and arguably led to their victory—was the reprieve Stuart Broad got while batting. This had nothing to do with any flaw in the technology, but how players could manipulate the use of DRS to beat the system and hence erode the purpose of getting fair results. Broad got a thick edge when on 37, which was caught at slip. The umpire overruled the appeal in a gross error of judgement; this prompted Broad to stand his ground. Since Clarke had already utilized his two reviews, he could not ask for another. Broad lived on to score 65 in what turned out to be a match-winning partnership with Ian Bell.

Arguments raged about his decision not to “walk" despite getting a thick edge. The ethical position is easily challenged by the right of the batsman to let the umpire make the decision. Also, who gives a quarter in a battle where winning is everything?

But the moot question is whether Broad would have stood his ground if Australia had a review option open? I doubt it. The batsman, within his rights, exploited the situation, with the DRS failing to increase the “fairness". However, a more serious doubt in this matter is that it allows players to take advantage of the DRS. The system is not, in any case, even-handed with players.

Let me explain. Most reviews are used for or against frontline or established batsmen/bowlers. This can allow in one instance, as the Broad incident showed, some batsmen to use the system to their advantage. The flip side to this is that a lower-order batsman—or a newcomer—has no such advantage. It could mar a career.

The argument that the review options have to be used judiciously is not ill-founded, but it flounders because of the restricted numbers—only two. It may work in tennis, where it is a one-on-one between two competing players, but in a team game, and especially cricket, it can be problematic. Yet how many reviews should be allowed?

It would be fair to argue that had the countries involved not been two powerful voices in international cricket, as also the strongest supporters of the DRS, there would have been a right royal furore. Imagine India being either the beneficiary or victim of such flawed decisions.

The issue is not of scoring brownie points, but improving the game. The Test has brought cricket to an inflection point again on the use of technology and off-field decision making. I was a strong supporter of the DRS, but in the light of recent events, there are clearly striking cons to the evident pros which can’t be ignored. Briefly, these are:

Pros: Technology removes the stigma of bias, reduces human error, increases viewer satisfaction, is acceptable to a majority of players.

Cons: Technology is not foolproof, the margin of error is still high, it reduces the need for on-field umpires, technology is open to manipulation by the operator, the system is open to manipulation by players and it’s costly, so all countries can’t use it.

Some experts have argued that the number of reviews should be increased, others that the reviews should be taken away from the players and assigned to the umpires. Both these arguments have merit. The bigger issue—of cost and efficacy of technology—of the DRS remains. If anything, the first Ashes Test will only have widened the rift between the ayes and nays.

Does it make sense to use the DRS for all ICC events and leave the bilateral contests out of its purview till all boards are convinced about the technology and logistics of how it should be better deployed? Going ahead, I don’t doubt that technology will play a bigger role in the sport. That’s the way the world is moving in all sport. But at the current juncture, what’s more important is to reach a consensus so that we don’t have the ridiculous situation where some series have DRS, and others don’t. A review of the DRS may be in order to reach full compliance.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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