THE CORDON HOME

BLOGS ARCHIVES
SELECT BLOG
August 3, 2013

It all evens out in the end

Michael Jeh
If you're happy to stay on when the umpire makes a mistake that lets you off, how can you complain if you're mistakenly given out?  © PA Photos
Enlarge

After the first day's play at Old Trafford, I was asked to speak to a national audience on ABC Radio to discuss the Usman Khawaja incident. In my preview notes to the producer (before day two's incidents involving David Warner and Tim Bresnan), this is what I said:

"My summarised viewpoint on this is that we can't get too caught up in the seeming injustice of it. Assuming we accept that umpires are neutral and that any mistakes they make are not motivated by bias, then Australia is no worse off than any other country. It will even itself out in the long run. I can think of many examples where Australia (or any country) have benefited from an umpire's mistake. When that happens, we're quick to shrug our shoulders and say, 'Mistakes happen, it all comes out in the wash, take the good with the bad' etc.

"We've also been very vocal in our criticism of India for refusing to use DRS when they play in India. The Indians have long argued that DRS is unreliable and we've been one of their loudest critics, arguing that it is still better than not using DRS. So now, we've just got to suck it up and live with human fallibility.

"Final point: Australia pioneered the culture of not 'walking'. Nothing wrong with that. We've always believed that even if you edge the ball to the keeper, you are entitled to stand your ground and live or die by the umpire's verdict. It's now time for us to honour that code, even when the rub of the green is temporarily against us. This was inevitable - as soon as players decided not to be honest, they left the decision in the umpire's finger. We can't now whinge too much when the umpire gets it wrong, because every umpire knows that batsmen will never walk if they edged it anyway. Nothing wrong with standing your ground and waiting for the umpire's verdict but if you subscribe to that theory, you can't have your cake and eat it too when you get a rough call.

My comments above proved eerily prophetic, but to be honest, I wasn't that much of a soothsayer. I made those comments to the producer to help guide our on-air discussion and to be controversial enough to attract talkback from listeners, but I was confident that day two was always going to provide some material to support my thesis. I must confess that I never expected something as dramatic as the Warner incident to reinforce my point but the way this series has gone on dry pitches, it was a sure bet that something was bound to happen to add fuel to this fire.

Here is a link to the radio show which probably be will be live for another 24 hours. There are some fascinating conversations with listeners who call in with intelligent observations. It was not a jingoistic or unreasonable talkback radio session, possibly because at 4am only the die-hards were still tuned in!

To my first point, the old adage that decisions even themselves out in the long run will always prove true. Even in this Test, it is hard to argue that one team has benefited more than the other, taking all the umpiring errors into consideration. The cricketers themselves accept that, so it now behoves the commentators and general public to take a holistic, long-term perspective on that cycle.

Perhaps one criticism of DRS is that because of the quota system, players are now using it strategically rather than because they feel the wrong decision was made. If Bresnan was a top-order batsman (Jonathan Trott for example), he would almost certainly have reviewed his dismissal but they must have decided that it was a risky call to make for a tailender. So in some senses, the quota system is forcing teams to make decisions based on strategic imperatives rather than to eliminate every mistake. That is a flaw in the system.

The Warner case just proves the point that sometimes players genuinely don't know, even if it is bleedingly obvious to everybody else. On the television replay it looks ridiculously simple but in defence of Warner, he must surely have been sincere in his belief that he didn't nick it. There can be no other rational explanation. Why Michael Clarke backed Warner's judgement is another question altogether. Warner's judgement, on and off the field, in recent times has hardly afforded him the right to be afforded that respect. This latest dumb decision just proves the point, but I'm sympathetic to him in this instance, because he clearly made a mistake in good faith rather than good "spirits".

Whilst I still think that DRS gets it right more often than not, I have no sympathy for anyone who vacillates between the two camps

Therein lies the problem for the poor old umpiring fraternity. Admittedly they have been less than perfect this series but we still have to believe in the philosophical position that they are (a) the best available umpires, and (b) they are not biased. Assuming we subscribe to that position, we can remove any suggestion of "cheating", so we're back to the fact that everyone makes mistakes, including players. So when we have recent incidents like the Stuart Broad edge at Trent Bridge and Warner's nick last night - where players do not walk when there is a clear edge (either because they are deliberately testing the umpire or they genuinely want to believe the answer that they want to hear), that further undermines the confidence of the umpiring fraternity.

Perhaps umpires too go through their own "form cycles"; these guys may be facing a crisis of confidence in their own decision-making abilities, confounded further by a group of players who will now refuse to walk for even the most blatant edges just in case they get a reprieve. And then when the third umpire too gets it marginally wrong (as humans are wont to do in any walk of life), the pressure on the next decision keeps ratcheting up notch by notch.

The players too need to learn to be philosophical about these mistakes, because it is they (as a collective) who have created a culture where nobody walks. Yes, Khawaja had every reason to be disappointed, but unless he can claim, hand on heart, that he always walks when he nicks a fine one, his chagrin needs to be contained to that first flash of annoyance rather than a lingering resentment.

There will inevitably be those who argue that these mistakes can cost careers. Of course they can, but it has always been thus. Umpiring errors pale into insignificance when compared to the mistakes of judgement that players make, but, of course, they can make or break careers. The DRS can't be held responsible for that. Khawaja has as much right to be aggrieved as Steve Smith has to be thankful. For Smith, following twin failures at Lord's, being lbw for nought might have been terminal for his short-term career prospects, but another dubious umpiring decision reprieved him to the tune of 89 runs. If Stuart Broad was a junior bowler facing the axe, that denied wicket may have changed his career too. At the end of the day, the player's initial error (not hitting the ball in the middle of the bat as he intended to) was the first link in the chain of errors that follow, culminating in the umpire's verdict. Don't like mistakes? Hit every ball in the middle then. See, it's not that easy to be perfect is it?

A non-cricket person made an insightful comment to me yesterday with regards to the Khawaja dismissal. She said, "So he's actually annoyed that he made more of an error of judgement than he intended to?" Her point was that his initial error was that he missed the ball, so why should he be rewarded (given not out) for missing it by a bigger margin than he intended to? I smiled and had to explain that if we adopted that logic, most Tests wouldn't last a day! Fair point, though, from someone who doesn't understand the nuances of the game. I tried explaining to her that playing and missing was sometimes a skill in itself but the blank look she gave me suggested that she regretted engaging me in a conversation about a sport that she had no real interest in. As an elite tennis player, that concept just escaped her logic, and fair enough too.

India have been globally criticised for not agreeing to use the DRS in their home series and whilst I still think that DRS gets it right more often than not, I have no sympathy for anyone who vacillates between the two camps. I respect the BCCI's stance on the matter so long as it is prepared to be gracious if India lose a crucial game because of human error that would almost certainly have been reversed if the DRS was in use. Similarly, for all the other countries who strongly advocate for the DRS, they can't really complain too much so long as we're prepared to accept that any mistakes are purely mistakes and have nothing whatsoever to do with bias.

James Sutherland was careful to defend the DRS even when he asked the ICC to look into the Khawaja incident; he had no choice really, having been a staunch supporter of the system. In the case of most other countries except India, you have to be careful what you wish for (e.g. DRS) because sometimes you might just get it.

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

RSS Feeds: Michael Jeh

Keywords: BCCI

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by StoneRose on (August 6, 2013, 11:37 GMT)

Great article, thanks.

Posted by MountCleverest on (August 5, 2013, 9:06 GMT)

I don't really agree with this concept of it evening out over a long period of time. It might even out for a country basis but definitely not for each player. Even if the decisions do even out, one can't really count it even if one gets a match-defining bad decision in a high profile match(say a world cup final) and gets a reprieve in a low profile match. As to your point of non-walkers not deserving to complain about bad decisions, how about the other end of the spectrum? I haven't followed Khawaja's career in that much detail but assuming he has walked thus far, in the future thanks to the wrong decision he would rather start waiting for the umpire's decision rather than continuing to walk. Thus it becomes sort of a vicious cycle. DRS is a necessary step forward but the ICC needs to even out these chinks. There should not be such lack of application of common sense from the third umpires! Also, one can't compare not walking on an edge(broad's reprieve) with an lbw(smith's reprieve).

Posted by dmat on (August 4, 2013, 9:38 GMT)

The DRS technology is not the problem - it is the 3rd umpires interpretation of this technology. The decisions may even themselves out over a period of 10 or 15 years but Usman could be dropped for the next test and may never play cricket for Aus again (I doubt either will happen but it is a possibility). The 2 strikes rule has also failed cricket in this series - yes, you can blame the players for that but the bottom line is the umpires are still getting the calls wrong (must be 3 or 4 howlers there alone). Basically, the umpiring has been sub standard and the third umpire has been abysmal - let's just admit it.

Posted by test_tragic on (August 4, 2013, 6:21 GMT)

I don't understand what your article has to do with the Khawaja case. At all. Yes it all evens out but in the Khawaja case no body has still explain why the 3rd umpire failed to overturn the decision. All the evidence showed he was no where near the ball and that the noise came from bat touching pad well before the bat moved towards the ball. If the evidence was inconclusive than the decision must stand. But the evidence was conclusive he was not out.

Posted by Bonehead_maz on (August 4, 2013, 6:18 GMT)

It's the waste of playing time I object to. I also object to fielding sides not calling back batsmen they know are not out (even more than I object to not walking). My final objection is how silly it's all got. I'm an Aussie and no amount of prediction ( or fear of Pietersen) would allow me to think being hit on front pad 5 foot in front of crease can be LBW - this sort of thing changes the whole game ?

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (August 4, 2013, 4:08 GMT)

So Michael, is this whole article all devils advocate stuff? It's staggering to think you believe all these 'points'! Firstly, all cricket followers I know, both tragics and casual followers, players and non playing supporters alike, have never expressed the belief that Australia is being cheated in this series.They all believe the DRS system is seriously flawed, because it is a contrivance put in the hands of the players using inadequate 'technology' which is ruining the contest for players and spectators alike. Secondly, Australians didn't invent not walking, WG Grace did, when he replaced the bails when obviously bowled and continued batting. Thirdly, no spectator is faulting Broad for not walking; he'll get a dud when out of reviews. Finally, Hill made his Khawaja decision after just turning down an appeal, there is no excuse for Dharmasena in the box. There was no immediate player pressure to attribute his atrocious decision to. The simple truth - DRS doesn't enhance the game

Posted by disco_bob on (August 4, 2013, 4:00 GMT)

It may 'even out in the end' on a per dismissal basis, but rarely if ever, will it even out on a per match basis. And if a match decides a series then it's not much use to know that 'it evens out in the end'.

Posted by the_blue_android on (August 3, 2013, 21:27 GMT)

@Busie1979 - Enforced walking? There are so many holes in your system that I don't know where to even start! Every batsman knows it when they knick it? How? what if the batsman truly did not hear the knick? and DRS shows a knick?You would still fine the batsman for not having good hearing? Isn't that a bit Talibanisque? Do they make sure that every batsman has has really good hearing? Or for someone who doesn't are they forced to wear hearing aids?

What if the hearing is good but because of the noise/ambient sound of a WC final, the batsman doesn't hear? What do they do then?

Posted by   on (August 3, 2013, 21:11 GMT)

Alas, the writer misses a crucial point. The DRS technology, although it has its challenges, has been adopted to primarily deal with the "howler" decisions made by the on field umpire. Sadly, in the current Ashes series, the third umpires have made extra ordinary poor decisions using the DRS technology, much to the dismay of all cricket lovers, be it journalists, professional cricketers or ardent followers like myself. It is the individual umpires and their system that comes into disrepute. I would suggest to the writer, not to cloud the DRS debate with secondary issues, such as walking or not and that it all evens out in the end. I am sure he would do justice to those points in another related article.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

All articles by this writer