Michael Jeh December 8, 2010

The use and abuse of UDRS

It's clear from the first two Ashes Tests that the UDRS is still a long way from being perfect

It's clear from the first two Ashes Tests that the UDRS is still a long way from being perfect. Common sense will tell you that it was probably first conceived with the intention of eliminating the absolute 'howlers' but as the concept has been refined and debated, mindful of time-wasting issues, it has now morphed into something that is being used as a strategic weapon. Meanwhile, the really poor decisions still go under the radar, as we saw with Rohit Sharma last night, because it's not even compulsory around the world. It is indeed a curious workplace environment where some cricketers may lose (or save) their careers depending on whether they're involved in a game that includes the use of the UDRS whilse their colleagues in another country play to a different set of rules. It seems ridiculous that for a universal game administered by a global body, there is such inconsistency over such an important facet.

One can't blame captains for using the system, as it currently stands, as a strategic entitlement. It's no longer something you only use to overturn a blatantly wrong decision, but it has now become a calculated 'Powerplay' that should be used with great caution, perhaps to break up a valuable partnership or to stem the rot of a collapse or to try and get rid of the gun batsman if there's a s50/50 chance that the decision might just go your way. Clearly, umpires are getting a few of them wrong, mainly the tight calls, so unless it's going to be used for all decisions, we still risk having a system that is fundamentally flawed just because a team has already used up it's quota on those marginal calls.

The players themselves can take some of the blame for this. Michael Clarke, perhaps through abject disappointment or the act of a drowning man clutching at a serpent, saw a glimmer of hope when the umpire missed a blatant inside edge and forced England to refer a short-leg catch that was obvious for everybody to see. Well, obvious to everybody except the man in the best position - the umpire! Now, let me state upfront that I have no issue whatsoever with Clarke (or any other cricketer from any country) standing their ground and waiting for the umpire's decision if they are also prepared to abrogate ALL decision-making responsibilities to the umpire. It's when we have this "duality of morality" (as I call it) that major problems emerge and tensions can flare.

Let's consider the last two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide; Australia (Ricky Ponting) claims a low catch off Alastair Cook on the 5th day at the Gabba. His indignant response to the decision being referred to the 3rd umpire might be understandable if Australia (in this example) were always prepared to play the game on the basis of 'player honesty'. But, as Clarke proved a few days later in Adelaide, that honour code is totally dispensable when you snick the ball, either to the wicketkeeper, short leg, silly mid-off etc. It's almost as if a catch when you’re batting has a totally different moral obligation, to a catch you claim as a fielder. Why is that? I simply don't see why there is such a difference in ethics. If you knew you nicked it, why is that fundamentally different to claiming a catch that bounced before you caught it?

Likewise, wicketkeepers are prone to appealing vociferously for a catch that they knew missed the edge of the bat, but are bound by some sort of moral code that apparently can be relied upon to kick in if the nick doesn't quite carry to them. Fielders will appeal for an lbw that clearly got an inside edge. Sometimes the initial appeal is instinctive but you know a fraction of a second later that the batsman smashed it, but I have yet to see a batsman being called back if after an umpire gives him out lbw. Again, I have no issue with accepting the umpire's verdict, good or bad, because you know that over a lifetime, things even themselves out. For that argument to hold true though, cricketers who subscribe to that theory need to accept the umpire's decision on all verdicts. Insisting that you are so honest that you'd never claim a bump ball whilst happily admitting that you would appeal for a dismissal that you knew was not out or stand your ground when you knew you nicked one to the keeper just doesn't make sense.

The other issue about the challenge system with the UDRS is that it needs to be cognisant of the fact that umpires are human too. It's human nature to make decisions in the context of what has happened before, even if that is only a subconscious reflex in the back of your mind. With those 50/50 calls, would an umpire not be influenced slightly (perhaps not even as a conscious decision) by which team has more challenges up their sleeve? For example, if the fielding team has already used up two unsuccessful appeals, is there a possibility that the next appeal might go in favour of the fielding team because the umpire knows that the batting team can still exercise their right to challenge that tight decision? Knowing it's a marginal call, the umpire might sensibly be inclined towards leaning the way of the team who haven't got any challenges left, knowing that the other team still has the capacity to appeal the decision and therefore the correct decision still remains a possibility. In pure probability terms, if he follows this instinctive logic, he still leaves the door open for the correct decision to be made because the team with the challenge still up their sleeve can exercise that option.

Perhaps umpires never actually pre-empt that sort of decision but as human beings, it must surely figure somewhere in their subconscious. Another possibility is that they might be a tiny bit peeved that Team A has actually questioned two decisions in the past (and got it wrong) so this resentment might just be bubbling under the surface and even when a decision is probably 70/30 in favour of Team A, the umpire is inclined to rule the other way and that might be the really bad decision that the UDRS was set up to safeguard against. For instance, Michael Hussey's lbw off James Anderson at the Gabba that went undetected because England had used up their challenges earlier in the game. They were a bit over-ambitious and got a few earlier calls slightly wrong including Clarke's caught behind that they are still adamant was out despite Hot Spot being inconclusive) but by missing the Hussey lbw on that third morning, the system failed a crucial test due to a strategic error rather than the imperative to get it right. Is that really why the UDRS was implemented?

The bottom line is that the UDRS is still an imperfect answer to a problem that will never go away until all players can agree on a universal code of morality. Either leave every decision to the umpire and cut out the self-righteous indignation or start truly playing according to one's conscience and giving yourself up when you know the truth. Of course there are times when players genuinely do not know when they've nicked one or grassed a low catch so the safer option might be to simply shut up and leave it all to the umpires, taking the rough and the smooth with good grace. For their part, the ICC needs to dispense with the shambolic pretence of caring about time-wasting and allow umpires to call for technological assistance whenever they wish. Clearly, the players have no intention of bowling 90 overs in a standard six-hour day so what does it matter if we lose a few more minutes to ensure we get the correct decision every time? Or take the game back to a bygone era where character was shaped by accepting the verdict with a rueful smile and a quick walk back to the pavilion, instead of the open-mouthed astonishment, and the constant shaking of the head to let everyone know that poor little Diddums has been hard done by. It's funny how they manage to keep their emotions perfectly in place when they dodge a bullet.

And when you make a goose of yourself like Clarke did the other evening, full marks for the apology and the plausible explanation but for goodness sake, don't hide behind Twitter!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on December 22, 2010, 12:03 GMT

    An imperfect UDRS is much better than no UDRS. History will record India's opposition to it as futile.

    And the "duality of morality" is largely a furphy. There is currently a real difference of situation... when a low catch has been taken, the fielder is often best placed to truly know whether he has completed it cleanly. He has the advantage over current technology. The other situation - whether or not the ball has hit the bat - is much more amenable to technology, and there is no inconsistency in proposing the fielder's word for the first and UDRS for the second. No matter who you are.

  • fanedlive on December 15, 2010, 2:29 GMT

    Michael Jeh, u trying to spin as much as Shane Warne in this article?

    The 50/50s r almost *never* overturned by referral. U c this with LBWs, if it's close the decision is to go with original decision by field ump.

    The issue with UDRS' use is that players haven't quite figured this out, they use it 4 50/50s in hope it was a howler. When UDRS is used with head & not heart, then it will work.

    4 the record, b4 UDRS umps got about 96% of decisions rite. With UDRS it goes to 97 or 98%. Not a big improvement in grand scheme.

    And s'thing like hawk eye *must* be used for LBWs. Ball movement is sampled 100 times per sec or more, so comments that it is unable to predict accurately are absurd. I've not worked on these systems but have worked on similar sampling systems (e.g. car cruise control) so I no how they work.

    As 4 ump bias, all umps r biased & bias will change during game. We've lived with this all along, so why try to eliminate?

  • fanedlive on December 13, 2010, 12:34 GMT

    After seeing Marcus North given out LBW on a "speculative" appeal to the third umpire, I am now waiting to see a batsman jump down the wicket to a spinner, get hit on the pads about 3 metres out, and be given out on review when the computer projects that the ball would have hit the stumps. No matter how far down the wicket the batsman is, he could still be given out, which really is absurd - and it will happen, just you wait!!

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 20:00 GMT

    With the review system there is currently a crazy double standard with LBW decisions which seems designed to make the umpires look better. If hawk eye showed the ball to be just clipping the stumps, the umpire's decision is upheld, whether the initial decision was out or not out. Consider the decisions against Ryan Harris in both innings of the second test. The umpire gave him out on both occasions. Harris referred the decisions and in both cases the ball was predicted to just touch the stumps, so the decision stands and he is out. Conversely, if he had been given not out and England had referred the decision, then he would have been not out. Exact same deliveries, same predicted path, different result, so human error has not been eliminated.

    Whether a batsman is out or not shouldn't depend on who made the referral. Either we trust the technology and accept when it tells us the ball will hit the stumps, or we don't.

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 19:36 GMT

    The game is professional. Careers are at stake on the basis of these decisions. Enormous amounts of money are gambled not only on the results of games and individual players performances, but also on such simple and seemingly irrelevant things such as when no balls are bowled. We have seen players susceptible to illicit money from bookmakers to alter these outcomes. What is to say umpires haven't or won't be targeted to influence outcomes?

    I believe the review system is vital and it should be used more. It seems bizarre to discuss or design a system to eliminate "howlers". Who sets the standard as to when an incorrect decision doesn't offend our sense of justice? The aim should be to get all decisions right, not just eliminate the really bad ones.

    The umpires including the third umpire should liaise firstly. Any of the three should be able to instigate a review. Beyond that, keep the players right to ask for 2 reviews per innings, as a back up.

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 12:58 GMT

    Actually, UDRS is a great idea. I remember that an umpiring decision ruined the wonderful career of Steve Bucknor. I am surprised that after an incident like that, the Indian team has disagreements with UDRS. I find that only the teams that don't use the UDRS smartly are the ones who dislike it.

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 11:12 GMT

    I only have one complaint about UDRS. It's not definitive enough, specifically with regards to LBW decisions. I have no problem with requiring more than half the ball to be predicted to be hitting the stumps for the decision to be given out. What get's me is that you have the silly situation now where a player can be given out with less of the ball hitting the stumps than a player who is given not out, simply because of the original on field decision. I would like to see that if more than half the ball is hitting the stumps it's out, if less it's not out. End of story. There is doubt about the accuracy of Hawk-eye, and that will remove that. It is also, in my mind, the fairest way of doing it.

    For the rest, teams will learn how to use UDRS, and in time discussions such as these will no longer be needed. I do think though that the umpires should also have access to the technology should they wish to use it.

    After all, all we're really interested in is the right decision being made

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 9:24 GMT

    UDRS has reduced the umpiring glitches to a greater extent but still there's a long way to go.The entire tantrum of only three calls is not justified if the ICC wants to eliminate any umpiring errors so as to ensure a good foul-free match. UDRS must be imposed to all test playing nations and ICC should bear the financial strain. ICC must try to ensure a uniformity in the equipments standards so that no matter in which part of the world u are playing you are possessed with the best technology available till date. The problem is that the technology used is quite expensive and ICC alone can't handle it. ICC must asks all the member nations to contribute for the equipments and sponsorship will also play a huge role.

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 8:34 GMT

    Firstly not making URDS compulsory was a "Shocker" or "howler" watever fancy words you want to use. India had a real bad taste in lanka couple of years back, when lankans got majority of their reviews spot on and india the otherwise. Anyways, if ICC advocates URDS, it should make it compulsory and also that the current system of 2 incorrect reviews per innings per team should be supplement by 3rd umpire intervention to stop "shockers" once the team is finished with their allotted 2 incorrect reviews so that we can avoid micheal hussey at Gabba and certainly prevent Rohit Sharma at Banglore happening again. Cheers all!

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2010, 7:53 GMT

    There is another option of letting the sides re use their reviews if the review is successful . . Makes a lot of sense that way.

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