July 15, 2013

Don't blame the DRS

Michael Jeh
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

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Posted by Joe-car on (July 16, 2013, 12:20 GMT)

"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...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." Eh, wait, couldn't he then given Broad out seeing that Australia had no reviews left, and giving Broad 'not out' would have rendered the incorrect decision irreversible- which, in this case, let's face it, it was.?

Posted by teadrinker on (July 16, 2013, 12:09 GMT)

A bit of light DRS relief ...

I listened to almost all of the Test Match via Test Match Special and at one point Jonathan Agnew and Phil Tufnell were discussing DRS. JA described a visit he had been allowed to make to the third umpires room in a test ground in Australia and said what he found to be 'very Australian'. Amongst the screens and other tech paraphernalia there was a panel with three buttons. One button had a big label saying 'OUT', the second had a big label saying 'NOT OUT' and the third had a big label saying ...

'Beer ?' - suggested Phil Tufnell

No, 'SYSTEM STUFFED' replied Jonathan Agnew.

I just love TMS - worth the BBC licence fee by itself

Posted by   on (July 16, 2013, 11:10 GMT)

(continuing my previous post) b. Ability to decide on DRS or not: this is a non-cricketing skill and fans are not interested in the captain's mathematical, analytical, statistical and decision making skill (in this regard) c. Assertiveness of a bowler (self-important, egoistic, optimistic, 'important' bowler vs other bowlers)

An onfield umpire's keenness of sight, hearing and alertness are also 'non-cricket' factors and fans would not like to see it affecting the result. But that may be more consistent (2 vs 22) and 'distant' (from the playing 22). But it may be more acceptable if there are many more reviews (say 1 per player) or unlimited reviews with penalties for wrong reviews against spirit of the game etc.

Posted by   on (July 16, 2013, 10:26 GMT)

The existing DRS debate has many aspects 1. Whether or not to employ technology to make decisions 2. Who decides on the reviews 3. How many reviews are allowed etc

IMO, 1 is certainly yes. But 2 and 3 are debatable.

2. Leaving it to the umpires may not be ideal as umpires may not invoke DRS for what the players may feel is a debatable call. So, some bad decisions may be left unreviewed.

3. As a fan of the game, I'm against having very limited number of reviews. It puts the outcome and progress of the game in control of a factor not related to cricketing skills (which is what I'm watching the match for). The non-cricket factors that will affect the game will be: a. Seniority and 'importance' of a batsman in reviewing his 'out' decision (a lower order batsman, or a newly joined member or a humble batsman are less likely to request a review than a self-important or senior batsman or captain. b. Ability to decide on DRS or not: this is a non-cricketing skill and fans are not interested

Posted by jmcilhinney on (July 16, 2013, 10:22 GMT)

@CoverDrive88 on (July 15, 2013, 18:07 GMT), but decisions are not being made on margins of 1-2 mm most of the time. That's the whole point of "umpire's call". Noone is claiming that ball-tracking is perfect so there is a margin for error built into the system. If the batsman is given not out and the ball is shown to be almost half hitting a stump then he remains not out. That's not 1-2 mm. That said, if the batsman is given out and the ball is shown to be missing by 1-2 mm then he is reprieved, which is somewhat of a contradiction. I guess they decided that people just wouldn't be able to deal with a batsman being given out when the ball was being shown not hitting the stumps.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (July 16, 2013, 10:13 GMT)

cont. The thing that really got people fired up about DRS is Broad's let-off. That was an umpiring mistake and not a failing of DRS though. If DRS had been employed then it would undoubtedly have reversed that decision, as it should. Of course, Australia had wasted their reviews and were unable to do so. Now, many people advocate a change to the system of two failed reviews per team per innings and I'm not saying that they're right or wrong but, seriously, how much was the ball missing the stumps by when they reviewed that LBW against Bairstow? That decision, as much as anything else, cost Australia Broad's wicket. Here was the exact type of incident that DRS was invented for and Australia threw away a review on an LBW no-hoper. Michael Clarke has been praised for his attacking captaincy but I'm yet to hear anyone admit that his over-eagerness to review close LBWs (or not even close) is a downside of that aggressive approach.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (July 16, 2013, 10:06 GMT)

If that Haddin dismissal had been the only use of DRS during the match then there would have been nothing controversial about it at all. The only issue is that people were already fired up about DRS so many were looking for any reason to bash it. There was only one issue with DRS during this game and that was on Jonathan Trott's second innings dismissal. It was hard to say for sure either way based on the evidence available but, even then, if the side-on HotSpot had been available, as it should have been, then that would have been a straightforward decision too. There were a number of close LBWs that remained umpire's call so they stayed as they would have if there was no DRS so there's nothing there. Some are trying to make a big deal of the dismissals of Root and Hughes too. Root didn't even review so that's a complete red herring and, while it looked to have pitched outside leg in real time, it only took a pitch map (no HawkEye) to clearly show that it pitched in line. tbc

Posted by ODI_BestFormOfCricket on (July 16, 2013, 9:47 GMT)

everyone knows hotspot does not detect very thin edges, so batsmen trying to make use of that hole by referring it to third umipre. If they lucky enough, got reprieve. problem is in drs itself.

Posted by android_user on (July 16, 2013, 9:19 GMT)

I think we are overcomplicating the issue .First things first..get it out of the players hands.The third umpire must be entrusted to reverse any"howlers".And no danger of upsetting the rhythm of the game too...if the original decidion is out then we have a break to decide n if it is notout then the fielding captain can take the extra minute to bowl the next delivery..harsh punishments on slow over rates can even out things.

Posted by   on (July 16, 2013, 3:42 GMT)

Initially I was a supported of DRS but I am rapidly siding with the Indians. Firstly, DRS was supposed to eliminate howlers but it's now showing up (and being used to overturn) the very close decisions as well. The umpires call is the where it gets murky. If you want the correct call each time you can't have one guy given out when 1mm of the ball is hitting leg while another guy is given not out when a a lot more of the ball is hitting leg. Secondly, benefit of the doubt has all but disappeared. How far you are down the wicket seems to make no difference in terms of LBW. We are putting a lot of trust in the technology getting the trajectory and line correct. Quite often it looks incorrect to the naked eye which is disturbing. Thirdly, with DRS we are still seeing poor umpiring mistakes change the course of games. If that's the case what is the point of utilizing the technology. To me that says the system is not working and needs to be fine tuned

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Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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