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Another look at reviews

The review system needed to be tried, but there are plenty of questions still unanswered and kinks to be worked out

Sambit Bal

August 4, 2008

Comments: 58 | Text size: A | A



The jury is out: India have had more cause to feel aggrieved by the use of the review system than Sri Lanka so far © AFP
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After having been in use for all of two Tests, the review system now needs a review. There is no doubt that it needed to be tried, though it would perhaps have been preferable to have trialled it during the Champions Trophy, which is an ICC-run tournament, and where all the teams would have got a taste of it. But it can be argued that one-day cricket doesn't produce the sort of dismissals that would have tested the system to its fullest; and in fact, having used it in a Test series, the advantages and disadvantages have been exposed to a greater degree. To that extent, the trial has served its purpose already.

The results have been mixed. In the first Test, Sri Lanka benefited from the review process four times - twice justly, twice wrongly. No field umpire would have given Sachin Tendulkar out to an edge behind his pads, which only the replays revealed; and Rahul Dravid was so clearly out that it was a surprise the umpire didn't spot the edge. Much-deserved justice for the bowlers on both occasions.

But Tillakaratne Dilshan benefited from lack of immediate visual evidence of a nick, which had been spotted by the field umpire in the first instance. And then, far more shockingly, Virender Sehwag was given out because of a human error from the third umpire, and alarmingly, an error from the Virtual Eye system, which is expected to produce reliable graphics. Rudi Koertzen, the third umpire in question, should have spotted the obvious deflection from the front pad onto the back one; Virtual Eye showed the impact to be in front of middle stump, but outside the crease. Sehwag was indeed hit outside the crease - on the front pad, which was in line with leg stump. The second impact was in front of middle stump, but the back foot was within the crease.

The system again invited some justifiable scepticism when it projected a ball from Ajantha Mendis that pitched on middle and hit Gautam Gambhir in line with leg stump, to be shaving leg. Of course, the umpires do not use the projection part of the system, and Gambhir was ruled not out, but the doubts only grew.

The Indians might feel hard done by, but that's merely because they have had more decisions going against them. And that's not really the point. They lost in Colombo because they failed abysmally with the bat, the ball, and in the field. The question before the administrators is whether the game is better served by the review process.

 
 
The review system exists to undo obvious wrongs, but it's clear that teams will ask for reviews simply because they have a few pending, and in some cases because bowlers always think that they have got their man
 

There is evidence, as acutely manifested during the morning session on the fourth day of the Galle Test, that too many reviews can get tiresome and create major interruptions in the game. There were four reviews in the session, and each lasted four to five minutes. Sourav Ganguly, on being prompted by his batting partner, won himself a reprieve, which would have seemed like justice to the Indians after Dravid was given out - rightly, as it turned out - following a demand for a review from the Sri Lankans. But Anil Kumble asked for a review when he was stone-dead leg-before, and Sri Lanka made two unsuccessful reviews on leg-before decisions.

More than 15 minutes were lost in a morning session which had been extended by half an hour to make up for the lost overs on the first day. The review system exists to undo obvious wrongs, but it's clear that teams will ask for reviews simply because they have a few pending, as was evident from the Kumble instance, and in some cases because bowlers always think that they have got their man. In the first Test, Harbhajan Singh asked for one after the ball had pitched about half a foot outside the leg stump.

In all, 24 unsuccessful reviews are allowed in a Test. (The total number of reviews can, of course, be much higher.) And in the event of all of these being reviewed, and granting three to five minutes per review, anything between 90 minutes to two hours of play can be lost. That's between 20 to 30 overs. Can Test cricket afford to slow itself down even further?

This is not to argue that the system ought to be junked. Quite obviously, it allows edges to be detected with greater certainty. In fact, the ICC ought to go a step further and allow the use of the HotSpot technology, which has looked the most foolproof so far in detecting the impact of the ball. The super-slow cameras pick up the thick edges, but as demonstrated by the Dilshan incident, they are not good enough for the thin ones. It is understandable that not all television production companies would be inclined - and they certainly cannot be forced - to use expensive technology, so it is incumbent on the ICC, as the global custodian of the game, to employ and pay for the best available technology at all international matches.

The matter is far more complicated with leg-before decisions. There is simply no technology available to remove the subjective element, and indeed, if every ball that would go on to graze a stump were to be given out, matches may well finish in two days. It is also not clear what information is exchanged between the on-field and television umpires. Does the television umpire merely communicate the information - the line of the ball, the point of impact - or does he offer an opinion? And as evident from a number of the reviews so far, despite multiple replays there remains an element of ambiguity about the final decision. If technology cannot provide an absolute answer, it is more likely to muddle the situation even further.



Sehwag became the first player to be given out when the on-field umpire's decision was overturned after review... wrongly, as it happened © AFP
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The only areas where technology can help are in cases of line decisions for lbws, and edges, and it should be left at that. If it can be ascertained that a technology can provide accurate pitch mats, then it must be used uniformly. To cut the delay, on-field umpires could possibly be provided with handheld devices that allow them to view the pitch mats instantly. This will cut down the number of review appeals from the fielding side.

It also needs to be clarified whether captains are allowed to seek an explanation from the on-field umpire, as Mahela Jayawardene did before asking for the review of Dravid's lbw, and how much time they have to make up their mind. Jayawardene was within his rights to ask the umpire: if the review is being sought, it must be done with knowledge of what evidence was used in arriving at the initial decision. The Indians obviously missed a trick because Kumble consulted only his team-mates.

Of course, there is a view that cricket ought to be like baseball and football, two highly televised, multi-billion-dollar sports, that haven't bowed to the pressure of introducing technology into decision-making. But cricket made its call years ago. It is now impossible to imagine run-outs and stumpings being ruled on without a replay. And with a bit of fine-tuning and common sense, even the review system can be made to work.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by Prashant13 on (August 6, 2008, 20:42 GMT)

I fully agree with duggi4 who said that the 3rd umpire should do a referral if there is an obvious mistake and players should not be the ones to call it.And another thing is a balance needs to be found between time lost and correct decisions.Sometimes the decisions can be very hard to decide,and even the third umpire would not be fully sure of the right decision.In such cases i feel the umpire's decision should be final.This way the game moves on which is also important.

Posted by VG280 on (August 6, 2008, 5:56 GMT)

Instead of limiting to 3 incorrect reviews, how about a 10 run penalty for every incorrect review? No limit on the number of incorrect reviews, but the penalty runs add up fast! This way towards the end of an innings, batsmen and captains won't be tempted to review every decision.

Posted by calaf01 on (August 6, 2008, 1:00 GMT)

I think that the emphasis in reviews could be improved. At present when a decision is reviewed it's the third umpire who makes the final decision and overrules the on field umpires. What if the on-field umpire made his decision, and then it could be referred to the third umpire by the umpire or the teams, but the third umpire's job would be to see if there was any reason why the umpire's initial decision shouldn't stand. He could then relay to the umpire a reason (privately?), when the on-field umpire would reverse his original decision, or say there's no reason, when the on-field umpire would confirm it. If the third umpire could not give a reason because there was a doubt, that would be the same as no reason. The on field umpire would retain total authority because he would be making the decision, and obvious errors would be eliminated. This would make the third umpire's job easier, and reduce the time needed for review because he need not look at replays over and over.

Posted by kingofspain on (August 5, 2008, 20:31 GMT)

Rv770- colonial days are over- it's time to get over it and move on. You'll find your life is a lot happier as a result as well!

Posted by ab1968 on (August 5, 2008, 19:48 GMT)

the move to a slicker system is obvious:

1 - the on-field umpire takes an instant decision, the batsman goes immediately if the decision is out. The 3rd umpire over-rules only if obviously incorrect - eg inside edge, bounce of short leg shin up to wicket keeper, clearly no edge etc.

2 - fielding team is allowed to refer but again on-field decision is changed only if there is an obvious mistake - will take away all nonsense with close catches.

3 - this speeds everything up, the on-field umpire will rarely be over-ruled if he is good (thus maintaining authority) and - as a bonus - a neutral umpire can be used in the middle as decisions are checked anyway (thus growing the pool).

easy

Posted by duggi4 on (August 5, 2008, 19:18 GMT)

firstly one must not lose sight of the fact that the benefit of the doubt must go to the batsmen.no matter how much technology there is, there will always be doubt and that what makes test cricket fascinating.the use of technology is making umpires less skillful in descision making. i would like to see the third umpire take the descision to refer not the players.in fact many dismissals have been over no balls that were not called.on tv you see the slo mo of the bowler overstep before the batter hits the catch.and the oke gets given out caught.why can't the third umpire step in there and then and say not out.i think we should not allow the referral to decide the marginal but the 3rd ump should step in when there is obvious error.umpires have the worst job in the world and the respect owed to them by the players needs to be upheld.

Posted by _Oracle_ on (August 5, 2008, 15:09 GMT)

Review systems is good but like pro football there should be only 3 reviews allowed in and innings, period. Successful or not. That way captains or batsman don't use them just because they have some pending. This way you know that there can be only as many as 24 reviews in a test and no more. This would mean about an hour worth of lost play. And even if this is too much time, may be take review out for the LBW decisions. Because they aren't precise even with this review system.

All in all, I like the review system. It needs to be there to avoid another Sydney debacle. I think 30 to 60 mins a game is a good price to pay to avoid that kind of controversies. And really that is only 10 mins a day which is generally wasted by bowlers/batsman/fielders anyways. I.E. Australia hardly ever bowl their quota of 90 overs. They go close to 80 overs because they aren't forceful in the field. There should be harsher penalty for those.

Posted by aadirag on (August 5, 2008, 14:32 GMT)

I believe this review request system already has & will benefit the game tremendously.Many decisions have been overturned.Only 1 decision by the 3rd umpire has been wrong.Much better than the onfield umpires who made quite a few blunders in the 2 tests.But,there are 2 main issues.How much time do you get before you ask for a review & 2ndly,can you ask for the umpire's opinion when you'd like to make a review.Answer to the 1st qn is the time taken should be defined & to the 2nd is NO,if you doubt the umpires decision you should know why it wasn't/was out in the 1st place.Sambit Bal,it seems likes to worry.The drivel about the slowing down of test cricket is unnecessary.Both games got over within 4 days.Nothing in this universe is perfect,perfectionist attitude to life never helps.Just because technology cannot guarantee you correct decisions all the time & batsman/bowlers will get away with the benefit of doubt a few times,it doesn't become useless.

Posted by aadirag on (August 5, 2008, 14:31 GMT)

I believe this review request system already has & will benefit the game tremendously.Many decisions have been overturned.Only 1 decision by the 3rd umpire has been wrong.Much better than the onfield umpires who made quite a few blunders in the 2 tests.But,there are 2 main issues.How much time do you get before you ask for a review & 2ndly,can you ask for the umpire's opinion when you'd like to make a review.Answer to the 1st qn is the time taken should be defined & to the 2nd is NO,if you doubt the umpires decision you should know why it wasn't/was out in the 1st place.Sambit Bal,it seems likes to worry.The drivel about the slowing down of test cricket is unnecessary.Both games got over within 4 days.Nothing in this universe is perfect,perfectionist attitude to life never helps.Just because technology cannot guarantee you correct decisions all the time & batsman/bowlers will get away with the benefit of doubt a few times,it doesn't become useless.

Posted by veeranx on (August 5, 2008, 14:08 GMT)

In the NFL the review is done by the refree who makes the onfield decision. Where it helps is that the refree has his knowledge of why he decided one way and looks for evidence against it on the camera.

However in cricket there is no communication between the main umpire and the 3rd umpire and the later would blindly make the decision based on the evidence he sees.

There should be communication between the onfield and 3rd umpire. The on field umpire should ask the details on what the 3rd umpire sees and use his knowledge on what he got on the field and it should be the on field umpire who should make the decision while the 3rd umpire assist.

To make it better, give the on field umpire a small tv which he can carry in his pocket. Or like NFL, let him run to the boundry where there is a TV waiting for him and he can talk with the producers of TV show and ask for the view he wants to see before deciding.

Also, if umpire has to run back and forth the boundry, the # of reviews limit 2

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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