June 16, 2011

DRS

Talking DRS with the ghost of Frank Chester

Andy Zaltzman
Umpire Frank Chester signals a bye, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 1st day, July 8, 1948
Umpire Chester demonstrates the victory jig he would have performed every time one of his reviewed decisions was upheld  © Getty Images
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England and Sri Lanka will do cricketing battle with (a) each other and (b) another unpromising weather forecast in the final Test at Southampton today. It is the Rose Bowl’s first Test match. As the old joke goes, new Test grounds in England are like London buses – you wait 100 years for one to turn up, and then three come along in under a decade.

Thus far, excluding the final-afternoon mayhem in Cardiff, when England’s bowlers obliterated their opponents like a hungry rhinoceros turning up at a somnolent picnic just as granny was packing away the remnants of a half-eaten pavlova, it has been a middling series. England’s imposing batting has only briefly been inconvenienced by Sri Lanka’s rather blunt and inexperienced bowlers, and there has been a degree of tactical caution by both sides that has further bunged up the already-rain-stifled cricket.

From England’s point-of-view, the series has further illustrated how crucial James Anderson has become to a seam attack that looked both one-paced and one-heighted at Lord’s. After averaging under 33 in just two of his previous 11 Test series (early-summer series against New Zealand and West Indies), the Lancastrian is now one good match away from his fourth consecutive series average of 26 or less. From the early days of his international career it was clear that Anderson could, in bowling parlance, “make the ball talk”. Unfortunately what he made the ball say was not always “Look out, batsman, I’m an unplayable outswinger”; slightly too often it was, “Ouch, I’ve been smashed for four again”.

As many of his team-mates have done, he has improved markedly with experience and, in an age of dominant batting and often pallid pace bowling, is now one of the most exciting players to watch in world cricket today.

Meanwhile there has been little talk in my house of anything other than India’s refusal to use the Decision Review System – easily my favourite decision review system – in the Test series in England later this summer.

The Confectionery Stall decided to consult one of the world’s leading umpires in order to acquire the officials’ view on this contentious matter. Unfortunately a stroll to and from my local station had resulted in no chance meetings with umpires from the ICC Elite Panel, and a telephone call to a confused Steve Bucknor resulted in the Jamaican Justice Dispenser informing me that he was being chased by a giant fire-breathing Allan Border, claiming that he had got an inside edge on that apparently plumb lbw appeal, whilst a fire-breathing dragon with Darrell Hair’s face was barking “that’s not out” in inflammatory morse code (a salutary lesson never to call a former Test umpire at 4.30am, particularly not after he has hosted a late-night cheese-tasting competition).

Therefore I was left with little option but to hire an ICC-ratified medium to make contact with the ghost of the legendary Frank Chester, who stood in a then-record 48 Tests from 1924 to 1955. After some small ice-breaking small-talk, in which Chester admitted that if he had had access to Hawk-Eye in the inter-war years, he would definitely have given Don Bradman out more often, just to see the look on Bradman’s face, he said that he is largely in favour of the DRS, but suggested some modifications to make it more spectator-friendly.

“There is much that I like about it,” commented the spirit of perhaps the greatest umpire of all time. “In particular, it provides the umpire with the opportunity to look triumphantly smug when his decision is upheld by technology. I would, however, suggest that a new signal for ‘that’s still out’ should be introduced, for when a batsman wrongly refers a decision. The umpire should raise the index finger in the traditional manner, but then add his middle finger and send the batsman on his way with a salute as old as time itself.”

Chester continued: “Imagine the atmosphere in a dressing room after a batsman who had clearly edged a ball then pointlessly referred it anyway. Development required: Dressing-room cameras and microphones to enable the viewer to see and hear the dismissed batsman claim, ‘I didn’t call for the referral. I was just asking for someone in the dressing room to make me a cup of tea.’”

Chester also observed that “boring batsmen always seem to be the ones to be reprieved”, and proposed that “a degree of democratic flexibility needs to be introduced to factor in whether a majority of the crowd wants to continue watching the appealed-against player bat”. He ruminated: “Perhaps Hawk-Eye could assume that the stumps are, say, 50% bigger when someone like Chris Tavare is batting.”

Chester concluded by expressing concerns that any system of appealing against a judicial decision inevitably leads to legal complications. “You wait,” he muttered ghostlily. “Lawyers are like Jonathan Trott. Once they get in, they are almost impossible to get out. Mark my words, within 10 years, most lbw decisions will be dragged through the courts like an American murder trial. It will take between five and 10 years to find out whether or not a batsman is out. And that is not going to help with over rates that are already so slow that if I had simply woken up from my 1957 death and looked at a scorecard of a complete day’s Test cricket, I would have assumed that a volcano had erupted at the tea interval and ended the day’s proceedings.”

The ghost of Frank Chester then thanked me for getting in touch, and said that he had to leave to umpire a Bodyline rematch.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Colin Bland on (June 29, 2011, 12:33 GMT)

Oh, Chris, I must apologise and worship at your feet for being so horrendously wrong.

I would in my defence and that of Andy suggest that when passing a comment such as yours explain why. Your comment just appeared a little mean spirited and excepitonally pedantic to me particularly in the spirit of the article.

All the best.

Posted by Chris on (June 23, 2011, 23:42 GMT)

Colin, yes I do remember Riverside - maybe it's you who should try getting your facts straight before commenting (checking which country the Test grounds are in might help)

Posted by Colin Bland on (June 22, 2011, 8:13 GMT)

Excellent as ever. Chris Tav was a county dasher but everyone just remembers his barnacle capabilities.

Re Chris' comment on getting facts right, suggest you do likewise before sounding off against the master of fact & stat. Don't you remember the Riverside?

Posted by Aman Dhingra on (June 19, 2011, 2:45 GMT)

A. Khan, if you read the most recent piece on Sachin's opion on the UDRS is clearly says that he is not opposed to the system, but one that only half utilises what it has available. He is a big fan of the "hot tracker" ball tracking system which intergrates hot spot with virtual eye to make a better and more accurate decision. Please get your facts straight before jumping on the banwagon of "its all sachin flexing his muscles"... (I am a huge UDRS fan just by the way)

Also, with umpiring signals, I think a gladiator style thumbs up/thumbs down system would be perfect to indicate the fate of a review

Posted by Jose Cyriac on (June 19, 2011, 0:45 GMT)

Too good.. especially the last lines!!! ~ "“You wait,” he muttered ghostlily. “Lawyers are like Jonathan Trott. Once they get in, they are almost impossible to get out. Mark my words, within 10 years, most lbw decisions will be dragged through the courts like an American murder trial. It will take between five and 10 years to find out whether or not a batsman is out. And that is not going to help with over rates that are already so slow that if I had simply woken up from my 1957 death and looked at a scorecard of a complete day’s Test cricket, I would have assumed that a volcano had erupted at the tea interval and ended the day’s proceedings.”

Posted by steve on (June 18, 2011, 21:43 GMT)

I love Boycott's opinions when he says a bowler has to bowl line and length, in the corridor of uncertainty, from a good height, into the rough, swing it, turn it, and at the batsman's throat. Well he would have done well wouldn't he?

Posted by David on (June 18, 2011, 13:38 GMT)

I thought it would have been more hilarious if the umpire would just raise his middle finger if the batsman was out after he asked for the UDRS.!!!

Posted by Chris on (June 18, 2011, 13:08 GMT)

Get your facts straight - there have only been 2 new Test grounds in England.

Posted by kotur on (June 18, 2011, 10:16 GMT)

Umpire's decision gives benefit of doubt to the batsman. DRS gives benefit of doubt to the umpires.

Posted by richard on (June 18, 2011, 9:02 GMT)

ANDY..........YOU MADE MY DAY!!!!!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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