Umpiring In Cricket : Controversial System For Controversial Decisions

The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS or DRS) is a relatively new technology based system introduced in cricket. The system was first introduced in Test Cricket for reviewing controversial decisions made by the on-field umpires to determine whether a batsman had actually been dismissed or not. After approval from the International Cricket Council (ICC), it was first used on 24 November 2009, during a Test Match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the University Oval in Dunedin,New Zealand. Later on, the DRS featured in the One Day Internationals in January 2011 during England’s tour of Australia. Initially, its use was made mandatory by the ICC, but due to opposition by the Cricket Boards of some countries, its the mandatory use was terminated and now it is up to both the teams to mutually agree on the use of DRS.
What exactly is the DRS ? Essentially, there are three elements in the DRS, with the help of which any controversial decision can be reviewed.

  •  Hawk-Eye : It is a ball tracking technology which plots the actual trajectory of a bowling delivery that is being interrupted by a batsman by his pads or body. The Hawk-Eye technology is used o determine whether the ball would have hit the stumps or not.
  •  Hot Spot Technology: Is an infra-red imaging system that illuminates the spot where the ball has hit — the bat or pad.
  •  Snickometer: It is a technology which relies on directional microphones to detect small sounds made as the ball hits the bat or pad.

The success rate of Hot Spot has been found to be 90-95 per cent. New cameras for the Hot Spot technology were used in India’s tour ofAustralia in 2011-12, which were vastly superior to those used earlier.
The ICC introduced the DRS with the aim of making the game more effective and fair. Most of the controversial decisions used to be given the on-field umpire in the case of Leg before Wickets (LBWs). Many such instances have occurred in the history of cricket where due to some bad decisions, the entire outcome of a match has reversed and the team with maximum chances of winning the match ended up as the losing side. If one recalls the Test Match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 2008, one can easily understand how the momentum of a match shifts from one team to the other due to wrong decisions. The match attained notoriety owing to the number of umpiring mistakes made by the international umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson. Indiaended up losing the match although India would have won the match if the decisions made would not have been so poor.
So for minimising or rather avoiding such errors, the ICC introduced the DRS. But it didn’t prove to be a perfect solution. The DRS faced criticism and consequently, the ICC failed to make it mandatory.

The Hawk-Eye technology has its own drawbacks. In the Hawk-Eye technology, the margin of uncertainty applicable to the point of impact with the pad has been increased, so that when the ball will be projected up to the stumps during a reviewed decision, the point of impact with the stumps becomes more prominent. This technique is correct when the ball pitches within the margin. Moreover, the projected ball should hit the stumps properly. But if the ball pitches outside the margin or it touches the stumps only minutely, it gives rise to controversy.
The Hot Spot Technology is not free from criticism either. For instance, former England skipper Michael Vaughan alleged that Indian batsman VVS Laxman used ‘Vaseline,’ on his bat to avoid Hot Spot detection. It is not known whether it is correct or not, but unfortunately the ICC had to bear the brunt of the controversy.
Generally however, the DRS has received positive responses from players since its launch; however some former players and umpires have put up objections against it. West Indies legend Joel Garner labeled the DRS as a ‘gimmick.’ Another West Indian batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan said that he was not a supporter of this experimental referral system. Former umpire Dickie Bird also criticised the system, saying it undermines the authority of on-field umpires. Pakistani spinner Saeed Ajmal expressed dissatisfaction over the DRS after the semi-final match between India and Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup, 2011. He said that “in the LBW decision of Sachin Tendulkar, the DRS showed the line of ball deviating more than it actually did”. The skipper of the Indian team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was also annoyed with the DRS and said that “it is an adulteration of human decisions and technology”.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting was once ruled out by the DRS after being ruled ‘not-out’ by the on-field umpire in a Pakistan andAustralia match. But Ponting didn’t leave the field after the decision was upheld. After the match, Ponting admitted that he had edged the ball, but he stayed at the crease because he has never been a walker. Ponting said that “there was no doubt about the nick- I knew I hit it. But as always, I wait for the umpire to give me out, that’s the way I‘ve always played the game.” The installation of the Hot Spot cameras in the field is also a matter of concern for the ICC. Till date, the host broadcasters and the Board failed to come to an agreement on who would bear the cost for the procurement of Hot Spot technology.
On the other hand, one of the popular umpires from New Zealand, Billy Bowden, accepted the advantage of the DRS. He was fortunate to umpire in a Test Match where the DRS system was once tried. According to him, he felt more confident and was able to deliver more correct decisions. He always felt that the DRS won’t distract him from making decisions and that he would be fair. Apart from getting rid of poor umpiring decisions, the other big advantage associated with the use of the system is the easing of pressure on the umpires. In this era, where every bad decision is scrutinised with a microscope, the review system helped umpires to be more at ease.
Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara believes that Test Cricket desperately needs the DRS to be a permanent feature to provide a level-playing field. Ironically, all these mixed views for and against the DRS have made it very debatable. The times ahead will determine whether the DRS is a boon or a curse for cricket.

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