Never hand over the sole right to invoke DRS to the umpires

Date: July 26, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

One of the biggest talking points of the current Ashes series has been the DRS – its use, its accuracy, its relevance.

There have been some puzzling results come out of the third umpire’s cavern thus far with the off-field umpires in the first two Tests – Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill – both creating their own little slices of controversy.

Much of the debate has centred on the future of technology in the game at the highest level and whether it is a help or a hindrance in the overall presentation of international cricket.

Technological assistance to umpires was first introduced by the ICC in November 1992 when it debuted at Durban in the Test match between South Africa and India – the first man to be dismissed courtesy of the third umpire was Sachin Tendulkar, who was adjudged to have been run out.

Initially the third umpire was used for linear decisions – stumpings and run-outs – and could be called upon by the men in the middle to assist in adjudication of fours and sixes and whether a catch had indeed carried to a fieldsman.

In December 2009 the ICC implemented a far broader set of criteria on which the third umpire could adjudicate – this system was the dubbed the Decision Referral System (DRS).

In addition to the existing scope of the third umpire there was now the ability to utilise the hawk-eye ball tracking technology to assist with leg before wicket decisions and the hot spot infra-red imaging system to aid in both lbw and catching decisions.

The ICC primarily handed these extra powers to the third umpire in an endeavour to eradicate the so-called ‘howlers’ – batsmen being dismissed lbw despite an inside edge and players either escaping or falling foul to an edge that either existed or did not.

In Test cricket each captain was afforded two referrals per innings – get one in your favour and you maintained that referral for later but if the referral went against you, you lost it.

What was devised as a way of preventing blatant umpiring mistakes soon gave way to a tactical device that team’s implemented.

The current Ashes series has shown both the pros and cons from a team perspective of utilising the DRS.

Whilst Australian skipper Michael Clarke admitted that he and his team had been frivolous at times during the opening Test at Trent Bridge, England has maintained a cool-headed and methodical approach to determining whether a DRS is indeed a good move.

Captain Alastair Cook, wicket-keeper Matt Prior and the bowler hold a brief meeting of the minds with all three required to be in agreement for a referral to be requested.

On balance, England has had a far higher success rate than Australia, and importantly, has often had referrals still available at crucial times while all Clarke and his team could do was kick at the traces in frustration having earlier burned their options.

The controversies surrounding the sometimes questionable findings by the third umpires in this present series has sparked all manner of debate from scrapping the system to increasing the number of referrals to three per innings to handing total control of the requesting of a referral to the on-field umpires and removing the players from the process altogether.

The total abandonment of the system is unlikely given the fact that it will always be available for the television networks to highlight misdeeds by the men in the middle.

That being the case, there will be an inordinate increase in frustrations for both the players and the fans.

There is no doubting that the DRS has improved the overall accuracy of the adjudication process however there is no denying that infallibility is still the domain of the Pope.

Published figures by the manufacturers of hot spot, for example, indicate that the technology is accurate to a level of 90-95 per cent.

The argument to increase the number of referrals to three may have some merit when you consider that innings can last 150 overs or more at times.

But, for every increase in the number of referrals there will still be times when they are exhausted well before the cessation of an innings.

That leaves the prospect of handing total control of the DRS over to the field umpires who become the only ones permitted to engage the assistance of the third umpire.

This concept has the backing of the likes of Ian Chappell.

Now, it is a fair stretch for me to disagree with someone of Chappell’s standing in the game – but I am.

I cannot see any positives to the game should the umpires be granted sole determination with respect to the application of the DRS.

I say this because all I can see occurring is an inordinate slowing down of the entire game, and in some circumstances, giving it the feel of molasses running down a sand hill.

Ever since the introduction of the linear technology fall back to umpires 21 years ago we have seen the number of immediate on-field decisions become pretty much a thing of the past.

How often do we see run-out decisions referred only to learn through replays that often the toe of the bat is nearly level with the stumps or the batsman as much a metre short of his ground?

What the umpires are doing in such circumstances is to be expected given that their tenure of employment is predicated on the overall accuracy of their decision making.

If they have a largely fail-safe back-up why not use it so as to remove the possibility that they were wrong in their own immediate assessment.

Lately, we have seen a dramatic increase in a batsman who has been ruled to have been out being asked to cool his heels on the ground while the field umpire seeks assurance from the third umpire that it was a legal delivery.

In this Ashes series it has reached near plague proportions, with from memory, just the one overrule which involved Peter Siddle.

At times, with the likes of Ryan Harris in particular, replays have shown the arch of his foot breaking the line.

The more options available to the on-field umpire, the more they will be utilized.

Imagine in a place like India where spinners are operating on a day five dust bowl with the batsman surrounded like Custer at his last stand.

It is not uncommon for a ball to pop up to a close-in fieldsman two or three times an over.

Understandably, we could then expect the umpire to ask for off-field assistance in the majority of cases.

And what about leg before and caught behind decisions?

Often referrals called for by players involve a dozen replays or more whilst all the while action in the middle is curtailed.

If it was left up to the man in the middle we could expect nearly every appeal to be sent upstairs.

The pace of a game that many non-aficionados see as glacial will become akin to a Los Angeles freeway at peak time.

Some argue that the third umpire should be able to overrule a decision made by the umpire on ground if he detects an errant call.

But again, all this will take time if he is to arrive at a truly accurate assessment.

In my opinion, I think it should remain as is.

If a team or player is so convinced that they have been wronged then let them plead their case through the third umpire.

If successful, good luck to them.

If not, well that is just the risk associated with such trying your hand.

There is one area where I would like to see a change however.

In the case of back-up being called upon to decide whether a catch has carried I think it would be best for the on-field umpire to make a decision and then ask the third umpire to validate or overrule it.

The very nature of the two-dimensional TV picture heavily slants the referred decision to being ruled inconclusive.

Should that be the case the original call by the on-field umpire would remain the verdict.

Too often an adamant fieldsman is branded questionable in his ethics when the majority of times the TV technology is inconclusive.

It is time for the on-field umpires, in concert and unless totally obscured of the action, made a call and then referred it.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 25 July 2013