Reviewing the reviews of the Review System

DRS has rarely been out of the cricketing headlines of late. Only yesterday, after we started writing this post, Windies coach Ottis Gibson criticised its inconsistent use. Because the system is some ongoing freakish Frankensteinian creation, constantly having parts bolted on or sawn off depending on what day of the week it is, it’s easy fodder for journalists who would otherwise have to think of something original to write about. There’s no doubt the system is not perfect, but there seems to be this bizarre polarised assumption that either we have to immediately have a perfectly functioning, flawless DRS or we should go back to the old days of blind old octogenarian umpires giving decisions based on what appeared to be little more than a finely honed sense of smell. There must be a happy middle ground, and whatever you think of it, there is a very definite sense of progress going on as far as DRS is concerned, albeit slow progress.

Those people who get upset about the intrusion that technology has had on the game (among them, slightly surprisingly, is Jonathan Agnew, whose views on the game we generally otherwise hold in high regard) seem to be forgetting that cricket, like any other sport, has evolving rules. Let it not be forgotten that it was not until as recently as 1864 that overarm bowling was legalised, before that being seen as a satanic art. And in 1900 the MCC toyed for five comical matches with nets around the boundary to discourage thug-like shotmaking, (clearing the net meant scoring only three runs, whereas hitting the net scored two plus whatever was run, although these rules were changed several times before its hasty abandonment).

The point is that it is necessary for the game to experiment to an extent if it is to remain relevant and DRS is a part of that. Where technology is there, it ought to be used. It would be utterly perverse, and indeed would undermine the game, if TV companies were to have at their disposal the bevy of slo-mo cameras, tracking devices and other such contraptions they do, and the umpires had to make do with just two (usually not particularly reliable) eyes and nothing else. For that reason, technology in the game is here to stay. We cannot return to stone-age tools when cutting edge metallurgy is available.

However, the biggest problem with DRS is that the ICC, in its attempts to keep the BCCI (that’s the Indian national board, by the way) on-side, has got itself hopelessly tangled in implementation. Ever since Ian Bell was adjudged more than 2.5 metres down the track in the 2011 World Cup, the BCCI have got this idea into its head that DRS should be smothered in its infancy, which is not only illogical, but counter-productive and short-sighted in the extreme. The ICC need to get some balls, and tell India that if it ever wants to play sanctioned international cricket again, it must abide by its (the ICC’s) rules. Yes, they will wail and stamp their feet, but they’ll come around.

This needs to happen because the only way DRS will work is if it’s uniformly implemented and centrally administered and paid for. The obvious template can be found in American sports, where everything down to what colour shoelaces you can wear (we jest not) is centrally organised. Admittedly this example is a little extreme, but some centralisation is a good thing. However, in the case of DRS the cheapskates at the ICC have passed the buck to the individual countries to pay for – teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, already in financial dire straits, are being forced to pay for the system, but yet can choose how much or how little of it is used. So in the recent Sri Lanka – England series, HotSpot was a notable absentee. Quelle surprise!

Uniform implementation includes having the same ball-tracking technology worldwide. If there are two rival providers, then have a tendering process and officially licence only one of them. This will lead to competition and a better and more effective system and prevent a repeat of the Virtual Eye controversies we saw in New Zealand recently. It also means getting HotSpot (or a suitable alternative) for every Test match. The fact that there are only four cameras in the world is irrelevant. We’re sure it’s not beyond the wit of man for someone to perhaps build some more. Yes, HotSpot isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

As for Snickometer, which is an extremely effective tool, but takes several minutes to collate – there must be an inventor out there somewhere who can create a system that can make the squiggly sound lines and the video feed appear at the same time. It’s hardly splitting the atom…

All in all, things are definitely getting better and the technical hiccups fewer. Yes, there’s still some tweaking to do – some pundits have said that two reviews are too many; Tony Greig, on the other hand (in his infinite wisdom) thinks there aren’t nearly enough. We reckon two isn’t a bad number. One of several other possible changes is giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt when Hawkeye shows two or more ‘umpire’s calls’ (e.g. where impact and whether it’s hitting the stumps are both marginal). The point is that things will evolve. Trial and error in the Test arena is the only viable option, so it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. However, unlike the boundary netting idea, the idea of harnessing technology isn’t inherently crazy and, quite rightly, should be here to stay.

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