Monday, August 5, 2013

Crisis in Cricket: A Matter of Faith

When Dhoni hit Eranga for two sixes in the last over to seal victory in the finals of the Tri-Nation series, Sri Lankan fans did not say "let's get a bowling machine, replay those two balls and have it bowl perfect yorkers to negate any helicopter shots."

When Wahab Riaz's throw was not collected cleanly by Umar Akmal on the last ball of the WI-Pak game that could have prevented a tie, Pakistani fans did not say "let's replace Umar with Kamran and replay that last ball". OK, wrong example, but you get the idea :-).

When Siddle comprehensively beat Pietersen on the drive, and in Hill's judgment there was a nick, we shouldn't be clamoring for technology (hot spot, snicko etc.) to replace what Hill thought at that moment. Pietersen was beaten - it is inconclusive whether there was a faint nick or not. A millimeter here or there for Pietersen is as much a matter of luck as Hill believing one way or the other. It is part of the game.

The needless interruptions and constant questioning of umpire's calls is creating unnecessary pressure on both the umpires as well as the players calling the reviews. It is also magnifying the honest mistakes and creating additional pressure on an already high pressure job. And most importantly, as Gilchrist has pointed out, completely destroying the flow of the game.

If Eranga keeps bowling at the wrong spots, Sri Lankan selectors will drop him and replace him with a more reliable bowler. Similarly Pakistani selectors will drop Akmal and get a better keeper in there. If Aleem Dar keeps giving the Broads of the world not out, the ICC will score the decisions with all available technology and drop him from the elite panel.

Until then, all we need is faith that Eranga/Akmal/Hill/Dar are human and trying their best, and will occasionally get things wrong.

DRS should be used for post match accountability of umpire performance, not take the focus away from the 13 people on the field actually playing the game. The 1981 and 2005 Ashes were magnificent series and all people talk about after all these years are the heroics of Botham, Willis, Brearley, Pietersen, Flintoff, Vaughn, Warne...For all we know, Clarke and his team can come back and end up tying the score 2-2 but all the twitterati will talk about is the DRS. 

That's a shame. End DRS during the games, it's not cricket. 

Have a little faith.


  1. ICC has indeed lost the plot with DRS. The role of DRS should be to eliminate howlers, not to get precisely right decisions. The scope should be limited to run-outs, clear nicks (deviation visible to naked eye) for catches, bat-pads and lbws, and even use it to correct lbws if ball was pitched outside leg-stump or point of impact was outside off and shot was offered. That's it. No ball-tracking, hot spot, snicko for game time decision. I don't know if this was BCCIs stance against DRS, but if so, in administrative matters they have got one rare thing right, though they seem to have offered to compromise on it. (They seem to be getting team selection right, which after decades of ineptitude, is a breath of fresh air!)

    The current Ashes series is a great example of the awful execution of DRS. Instead of eliminating howlers, it is creating howlers of its own!

    1. I think extending the scope to anything beyond run outs will have the same issues. How do you draw the line on what a clear nick is or not? What difference does pitching a millimeter outside leg or making contact an inch outside off make and who makes the call to ask for a review?

      Unless the technology is foolproof and instantaneous it only detracts. With run outs it at least appears to be foolproof, though I preferred the days when the umpires did not use technology as a crutch and not referred *every* decision to the third umpire!

    2. hat is quite simple I think. If there was a clear, without a doubt nick / deviation visible in a replay, then overturn. The whole principle could be: (1) Aim is to eliminate howlers, not get marginal decisions right, hence evidence has to be very clear. Unless clear evidence exists, call on the field stands (2) Only use slo-mo replays aided by a shaded area to mark the line of the stumps.

      Agree that there has to be clear protocol around how the review is initiated. That can be simple too. Initiated by the batsman given out or captain of the team denied. If you win the review, great. If you lose it as a batsman, you lose 10% of your match fee. If you lose it as a bowling side, captain loses 10% of the match fee.

    3. Again, how is one inch outside the shaded region a howler? Once you play with algorithms enough you learn that greedy algorithms are almost invariably not optimal. Technology aided solutions might give you in the short term the occasional correct decision but howlers have a way to correct themselves in the long run. Going to DRS _during_ the game has so many issues, some of them I point out - many more Neeran in his blog post does.

      The mechanism that you pointed out to initiate the review is exactly as it stands now, only the penalty you suggest is different. By your mechanism a person like Dhoni can willy nilly ask for reviews (match fees are noise to him) whereas for some others it will be a real decision. Rich boards can encourage captains to keep asking for reviews and provide a post-match "bonus" to compensate. Where will it end?

  2. Nice one Vishal... I had written about DRS nearly FIVE years ago on my blog. I don't think I've changed my mind, since :) Take a look:

    1. Neeran - agree with your (prescient!) views almost entirely, however to me DRS is in fact boring. Destroys the flow. Would be interesting to get a no holds barred point of view from an umpire who has served on the elite panel.

    2. Yeah... at that time it was a novelty, so I thought it might be an interesting interlude in the game, once in a while. By the way you talked about using DRS post-game to evaluate umpires. The ICC seems to be doing that, with all this talk of getting 95% decisions right, or whatever. But I'm not sure it's valid to second-guess especially LBW decisions using a projected trajectory. The batsmen *need* the benefit of the doubt, and DRS robs them of it to some extent. The *right* decision in the case of a marginal LBW, or an "on the line" stumping/runout, is in fact "not out" whereas DRS will often say "out" -- and you'll mark the umpire as having erred. Not fair...

    3. You need to design the appropriate scoring criterion as well :-), that is something in my bailiwick! Some exam questions are with 20 points...others are 5 points...

    4. Just coming across this discussion. I think it is fair to use DRS for decisions involving what's already happened, but not for what is projected to happen. So, to give some examples, I would vote for DRS for the following:

      - caught behind (to check whether or not there was a nick)
      - caught ... anywhere (to verify that the ball did not hit the ground, with the benefit of the doubt going to the batsman)
      - lbw (to verify that the ball did not brush by the bat before hitting the pad)
      - no ball (for any decision that the batsman refers)

      I would not vote for DRS for the following:

      - lbw (to verify whether the ball would've hit the stumps)

      That is pretty much it - I cannot think of other situations why DRS would be a hinder. Besides, cricket already has enough natural interruptions such as clouds, bad light, rain, etc that stop the 'flow' of the game, so DRS should not be vilified.

      - Porcupyn

  3. I couldn't agree more! The interruptions and the mindless second guessing of "is that a white spot on the bat" is destroying the experience of the game. No decision where a human is involved (even if its watching a replay on TV as a third umpire) is going to be fool proof. Where do we draw the line? This Ashes series has proven Dhoni and Tendulkar right.

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