July 15, 2013

Don't blame the DRS

The review system has been a convenient scapegoat in the Trent Bridge Test, but it has done all it was supposed to

Arguably Aleem Dar made the right call on the ball that eventually resulted in the Haddin dismissal © Getty Images

"Controversial DRS decision robs Australia at the death". Headlines like this, presumably written by sub-editors working for the popular news media and parroted by news readers who don't know the difference between DRS, LBW and RPO have the potential to give me IBS. If nothing else, they clearly highlight the dearth of genuine cricket writers (and sports editors) in mainstream Australian media, following the absorbing Test at Trent Bridge.

Too many journalists these days have come through an education system that values appearance over substance, covering a number of different sports with equal mediocrity, trying too hard to find analogies and wordplay when a mere description of what actually happened would be more than adequate. Given that the reader/listener/viewer is likely to be more knowledgeable about the sport than the person delivering it, less is more. Please.

The ABC apart, long renowned for its sober and measured style of reporting the facts, most of the commercial media I have consumed in the last 24 hours have been characterised by hyperbole and cheap headlines. Even before the match was finished, the usually excellent Patrick Smith, writing in the Australian, allowed himself to be sucked into the hype surrounding the Stuart Broad incident by referring to it as "a wallop to first slip". If a writer of his calibre can succumb to the temptation of rhetoric before research, what hope do the young cadets who got their diploma from a cornflakes packet have?

Wallop to first slip? Did he not see that it went off Brad Haddin before it finished up in Michael Clarke's hands? Give Aleem Dar some credit - despite Shane Warne's harsh assessment of him, he surely didn't think that Ashton Agar bowled a doosra that went so far as to land in Clarke's mitts. Yes, it was a clear edge but not one that was thick enough to go to first slip without Haddin's help along the way. Some accurate reporting, please!

Monday morning's headlines have been all about the "controversial" DRS decision that ended the Test match? Controversial? Disappointing certainly (if you're writing from an Australian perspective) but controversial? How in the world is that decision controversial? Haddin edged the ball, the umpire erred on the side of caution, and England exercised their right to a referral, only to be vindicated by Hot Spot. Where's the controversy in that? Indeed, it would have been controversial if the opposite had happened, if the third umpire had ignored the evidence and not overturned the original decision.

The DRS has been much maligned this last week, baby soiled by the bath water so to speak, many commentators confusing the system with the way it has been used by the captains. Both Clarke and Darren Lehmann have been admirable in their refusal to make excuses, both of them highlighting their mistakes in the way they used the DRS, rather than offering an outright criticism of the technology itself. If you want to pick a fault with the way the DRS is administered, that is a different argument altogether but the decisions that it has produced vindicate the efficacy of the system (Jonathan Trott's lbw being a moot point perhaps).

Where did the DRS itself get it wrong in this Test? Trott's lbw might be the only one, and that too had various elements of human error built into it. It's all very well focusing on Broad's not-out decision, but that was not the fault of the DRS. That was a mistake by the umpire, and because Australia had used up their two referrals, they had nothing left to gamble with, safe bet though it may have been. That is partly Clarke's fault (as he graciously admitted, repeatedly) and partly a question mark about whether the system is set up correctly when an obvious howler cannot be fixed by the third umpire. But the DRS itself (as it is currently set up) was not responsible for this error.

Had we been playing under a system that reviews any questionable decision, you could argue that Broad may not even have been at the crease at that precise moment. Joe Root and Trott may well have batted England into an impregnable position if their dismissals had been judged differently.

The DRS has been much maligned, baby soiled by the bath water so to speak, many commentators confusing the system with the way it has been used by the captains

Both Clarke and Watson chose to review decisions that proved fruitless, but in the wash-up, those two wasted reviews did not cost Australia a wicket. No subsequent dismissal would have benefited from Australia having another review up their sleeve. England chose to be judicious, parsimonious even, in their use of the DRS, and it came to their rescue at a time when they needed it most. Most important of all, though, is to remember that the DRS did not get that decision wrong and that Australia were not disadvantaged by not having a review up their sleeve when Haddin edged faintly to the wicketkeeper. It would not have mattered if Australia had any reviews left or not - the DRS got that final call 100% correct. So where's the controversy?

Players from both teams understand the intricacies of the system and they understand how difficult it is for the umpires. Their responses are in stark contrast to the ill-informed commentary that has emanated from some quarters, most notably journalists who sacrifice intelligence for intelligibility. You could even argue that Dar got the final decision of the Test correct. Knowing that it could only have been a faint edge, if at all, he might have realised that Australia had no reviews left and the only way that we could finish the game with the correct decision was to rule it "not out" and trust England to use one of their referrals - an entirely justifiable possible assumption, given that there were but 15 runs to get and England would almost certainly exercise that option.

So by not giving Haddin out, even though Dar might have been leaning the other way in his own mind, he actually did the sensible thing by forcing England to use their referral, possibly knowing that had he gone the other way, any mistake would have been impossible to correct. Given the faintness of the edge, you could argue that it was a perfectly good decision to rule in favour of the batsman - benefit of the doubt and all that jazz. Imagine the headlines from the gibbering classes if he had given him out and then been found to have erred? Three cheers for Aleem Dar in this instance, I say.

My ten-year-old son captured the big picture perfectly when he made the comment that he was proud of the way Clarke handled himself through those last two days in front of the cameras. As he pointed out, Australia were dismayed when India refused to employ the DRS in the recent home series. Having strongly advocated the use of the DRS, it would now be utter hypocrisy to cry foul just because Clarke was too hasty in using it in England's second innings.

To reaffirm my original thesis, I can't see too much that the DRS itself got wrong. The real controversy lies in the failure of the media to employ journalists who actually understand the nuances of the game, thereby whipping up false hysteria where none exists. They missed the chance instead to write headlines that talked up a magnificent game of cricket played in good spirit and with all the human drama and romance that great stories are made of. If only they would review their own decisions to have become journalists in the first place.

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