Samir Chopra August 2, 2010

The UDRS and Test cricket

Recently the just-retired Rudi Koertzen opined that the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) should be implemented world-wide in all Test cricket

Recently the just-retired Rudi Koertzen opined that the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) should be implemented world-wide in all Test cricket. I personally don't like the UDRS (as it stands) for a variety of reasons: the technology does not work as well as it should; it has been introduced prematurely into the highest form of the game without adequate trials at lower levels; and more sentimentally, it injects a form of second-guessing into the game that robs one of the elements that makes the game what it is - the dreaded finality of the umpire's raised finger. But I agree with Rudi anyway.

For if the UDRS is to be implemented, and certainly, as matters stand, it will be, then I suggest that it either be implemented in every single test played anywhere in the world, or not at all. This piece-meal implementation, subject to the whims of individual boards and the local availability of technology, is an incoherent state of affairs for a very simple reason. When the UDRS is used in a game of cricket, you simply aren't playing the same game as one in which it is not used.

A game is constituted, and more strongly, defined, by its set of rules. To call a game basketball it is not enough that you play on a court, which has nets on both ends, and is of the right dimensions; the players' activities must be constrained so that what they do on the court is recognisable as 'basketball'. Otherwise (say if contact with the foot was allowed), they are playing some variant, possibly an interesting game in its own right, but it has lost the right to be called basketball.

What the current implementation of the UDRS does is to introduce a variance, and a significant one at that, into the very heart of the game. Nominally, batsmen are out when the umpires say they are out. With the UDRS, the batsman is out when the umpire says he is out, and provided an appeal against the decision has not been overturned; or the batsman is out in case a successful appeal against an earlier decision of "not out" is made. In both cases (UDRS and non-UDRS), the umpire on the ground has to raise his finger but the decision-making process is significantly altered.

Surely, I'm not the only person who thinks this radically changes the nature of the game? What was out in Trent Bridge was not out in Galle and vice-versa. A batsman or a captain playing in a Test with UDRS appeals to spare is playing in a very different set of circumstances than one playing in one without it: the dismissals of batsmen proceed according to a very different set of constraints.

My contention that the introduction of the UDRS makes the game a different one is a rather strong claim, but I make it because the UDRS interferes with batsmen's dismissals and not just things like boundary calls. A batsman's dismissal is a singular event in cricket; if there is one thing in any version of the game that should be globally uniform it is the definition of a wicket. And it is precisely that that the UDRS alters.

Such would not be the case if the UDRS was used in all Tests the world over. All teams would proceed with a uniform understanding of what constituted a valid dismissal. All of the system's glitches and built-in human idiosyncrasies would be everyone's cross to bear.

But the current state of affairs is simply incoherent: we are being treated to the spectacle of the highest form of the game being played according to different sets of rules depending on the location of the game and the identity of the participants.

It's bad enough that versions of the game have proliferated; do we really need two versions of Test cricket as well?

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here