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Rope for reviews

The system may have thrown up more questions than foreseen but it deserves a fair go

Sambit Bal

August 13, 2008

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A



The human factor: the review system is only as good as the men who run it © AFP
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Without quite intending it, cricket's lawmakers may have unleashed a process that could change the game profoundly. The outcome of the provision to review umpiring decisions has been startlingly different from what was intended. It was meant to get rid of obvious umpiring mistakes - the kind in the Sydney Test that threatened to derail India's tour of Australia - but it has ended up ruling on marginal calls.

The review system didn't influence the result of the series - Sri Lanka were palpably the better side over the three Tests - but it threw up more possibilities and implications than anticipated.

The first batsman to be given out under the experiment was Virender Sehwag, in the second innings of the first Test. It was a leg-before, the kind that would, pre-review, invariably have gone in favour of the batsman: only half of the ball landed on the line of leg stump. As it turned out, the decision was wrong, involving two mistakes, one from the third umpire and one from the projection system.

Those endorsing the trial - and that included Anil Kumble - probably were hoping for clarity when it came to such instances as the thick deviation off Andrew Symonds' bat in Sydney, which apparently everyone apart from Steve Bucknor heard. As it turned out, only one obvious mistake - involving a thick inside edge by Rahul Dravid in the first Test that the on-field umpire didn't spot - was corrected under the review system. There was also the top edge off Sachin Tendulkar's bat behind his pad that was given out under the review, which the on-field umpire couldn't justifiably have been expected to spot. It was justice done for Sri Lanka, but had the decision gone in the batsman's favour, it would have been understandable.

However, it turned out that a majority of review appeals involved lbws: 39 out of 48 to be exact. More interestingly, of the 12 successful appeals, seven involved lbws, and it became increasingly apparent that the umpires were willing to overrule their original opinion after they received additional information from the camera. In most of these cases, batsmen had been ruled not out apparently because the umpire had been unsure about where the ball had pitched or about the line of impact. In the process, an age-old code of cricket, unwritten but unfailingly honoured, was overturned. The benefit of doubt was no longer extended to the batsman.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. The balance of the game has kept shifting in favour of batsmen. Every piece of legislation drawn up in the last few decades has been designed to facilitate strokeplay and run-scoring. Bats have grown thicker and boundaries have shrunk. So a system of justice that is designed to deliver more guilty verdicts against batsmen is only welcome. Potentially a more stringent lbw regime can do for bowlers what covered pitches and helmets did for batsmen. It's about time.

But, and this is a big but, for that to happen, the implementation will need to be uniform, and it is difficult to see how that can happen. In this series alone there were obvious inconsistencies. Ignoring the Sehwag dismissal, which was a blatant mistake, there was the case of Thilan Samaraweera being adjudged not-out when the replay showed him to be as plumb as Dravid was shown to have been on two occasions. But the umpire - Mark Benson, who had a poor series overall - chose to stick to his original decision. You can bring in as much technology as possible, but as long as it is down to human interpretation, inconsistencies are inevitable, and so are controversies.

Top Curve
Reviews: the numbers
  • Total reviews 48
  • Successful 12 (Sri Lanka 11, India 1)
  • Unsuccessful 36 (India 20, Sri Lanka 16)
  • Appeals for lbw 39 (Successful 7, Unsuccessful 32)
  • Appeals for caught-behind/close-in 9 (Successful 5, Unsuccessful 4)
  • Bowlers involved in review calls
    Mendis 14, Muralitharan 12, Harbhajan 8, Kumble 5, Zaheer 3, Prasad 2, Sehwag 2, Ishant 1, Vaas 1
  • above includes batsman and bowler appeals

Bottom Curve

Prima facie it would appear that Sri Lanka profited under the system. They won 11 out of their 27 appeals - an extra innings, as it were. India won a solitary appeal out of 21. But to hold the review system out as the decisive factor in the series will be to obfuscate. Sri Lanka were deserving winners, and they won because they had Ajantha Mendis, a spinner very few Indian batsmen could read. And that they won so many appeals points to the fact that they created many more chances and that their captain was sharper and more alive to the possibilities.

It would not be a surprise if Kumble and Mahela Jayawardene offered different opinions to the ICC sub-committee formed to discuss the future of the process, but the decision should not be based on what happened in this one series. The review process must be further trialled during the Champions Trophy, which will allow all international teams to sample it. Learning from the lessons of the Test series, the ICC must ensure that the best technology available is used.

Virtual Eye's projections were shown up to be blatantly wrong at times: to cite one example, on review of an appeal by Prasanna Jayawardene, who had been adjudged leg-before - wrongly as it turned out because the ball had hit him above the flap - the impact was shown to be well in front of the crease when he had actually been hit on the back leg, inside the crease. There is no guarantee that similar will not happen with Hawk-Eye, because ultimately it is down to those installing the cameras and operating the systems, but it might be a question of greater experience.

There are no guarantees when it comes to HotSpot either. Mark Boucher seemed happy to walk off after being adjudged caught behind in the first innings at The Oval, but HotSpot revealed no impact. Still, of the technology available, there isn't anything more foolproof than HotSpot.

But more than anything else, there must be clarity over how it works between the on-field umpire and the third umpire over leg-before decisions. It will be too radical to suggest the communication between them be broadcast for the sake of transparency, but at the moment there is too much scope for speculation. Should the review be limited to merely judging where the ball pitched? After all, that's a line call - provided they get the pitch mat right.

Before a final decision can be taken on the way forward, the system must be given the best available opportunity to succeed, or fail. After that it is down to all those involved - players, administrators, and umpires - to decide which way cricket must head.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by mcmenon on (August 15, 2008, 17:12 GMT)

If the televised game is Cricket, what do we call all those millions of matches played - including first class cricket, which are not televised? Bricket?

Anil Kumble was given out lbw - at full stretch forward. Whatever the umpire asked to the thirdie - to be given out when there is even a slightest possibility of doubt is ridiculous.

We play cricket based on what is available at 'real time' - what you see at real time. A batsman has to deal with a 'chuck' - even if superslowmo analysis suggests a bowler is only bending it by 14.5 degrees!

TV, TV, TV!

Posted by Lemm on (August 14, 2008, 23:13 GMT)

As Virtual Eye CEO I wouldn't normally enter this debate but in the interest of balance I make the following observations. We have always maintained that the technology behind both Hawkeye and VirtualEye has limitations and that those limitations whilst not critical for the entertainment value in televison would need to be addressed if there was ever a move to use it to "assist" umpires. Unlike Hawkeye, who had 3 months to prepare for its measurement test with the MCC, we had just 48 hours prior to the first test. Despite that we measured more accurate than Hawkeye.If we had 3 months to prepare we would have definitely introduced new technologies we have in hand and we would have collaborated closely with the other technologies such as Hot Spot and the slow motion cameras.We believe there is a place for technology - but not at the expense of the umpire. If Cric Info is interested I can expand on this view and comment more specifically on some of the inaccuracies in this article.

Posted by carromball on (August 14, 2008, 20:03 GMT)

Gentleman!!!

Do you know how much it takes for one to get him self on to international reckoning as a cricketer ..... the skill,commitment and hard work?

Think about it?

How many cricketers carriers have come to a screeching halt because of bad umpiring decisions due to human error?

Technology is developed by man for a better tomorrow, thus it should be embraced,carefully and strategically. If the archaic arm chair critique forces delay of technology infusion to this beautiful game.It will only result in more unjust decisions, and many more errors. Should we wait and see or should we move on?

The answer lies with the ICC. As one wise person said before me do not politicize this decision.Today India might be in the receiving end of this review system, tomorrow they would be the beneficiary. Its the game and the true skill of a cricketer that would prevail if the right decision is made at all times.

Posted by Kirk-at-Lords on (August 14, 2008, 15:40 GMT)

The best thing about the review system is that it is underway. At last cricket officials are engaging fully with the role and limits of technology in the sport. The technology is not perfect (perhaps a surprise to some technophiles), and at times less accurate than human umpires (just ask Virender Sehwag!). The question will be how to make the best use of both to obtain the greatest number of correct decisions without unduly slowing an already deliberate game (particularly Tests). One of the greatest benefits of the trial in Sri Lanka may be showing the fallibility of HawkEye/VisualEye and their dependence on a proper pitch map being laid down by human groundskeepers. The trial has shown that technology does not simply trump humans. Now the way is clear to adjust the two to work more smoothly in tandem, and accept that marginal decisions will remain precisely that -- marginal. Benefit of the doubt should go to the umpire's original decision in all such cases.

Posted by AsherCA on (August 14, 2008, 14:35 GMT)

ICC have staged the Sydney win for Australia. ICC & their umpires were unwilling supporters to the review system primarily because it takes away their ability to decide results in favour of select teams. The way all borderline decisions in favour of India were reversed but the reverse was not done by Benson in this series shows us ICC's integrity !

If Sydney was genuine human errors, Benson would be called incompetent.

However, when he showed a willingness to be inconsistent to err against India he has shown a recklessness to his job after which if ICC permit him to stay, the message I get is -

ICC umpires have been ordered to step in with human errors to beat India.

In such a case, BCCI should simply resign its ICC membership & let Dave Richardson and his partners in crime stew in their own brew.

Posted by Cricketfan11111 on (August 14, 2008, 14:15 GMT)

Hawkeye and other technologies will correct obvious errors. Technology will also be useful in "eliminating the doubt" in marginal decisions. When there is doubt after reviewing, the benefit of the doubt still goes to the batsman. Dravid's notout LBW decision was overturned to "out" after review. Samaraweera and Ganguly were given "notout" after review. It works both ways. With technology there will be more CORRECT decisions than pre-tech.

Posted by sriviswa on (August 14, 2008, 13:26 GMT)

Mark Benson was famous for Aus/Ind series being named the Benson and Edges series (along with Bucknor). There was a definite bias on his part here too and I wonder why he was in the panel at all after all that ruckus. No doubt, India lost because it played badly. But, there reviews were not consistently handled and it hurt India more. If an LBW is referred to a third umpire, why can't the third umpire decide on the verdict too. Why waste time in passing info to the onfield umpire who finally makes a wrong call ... and remember each time it was Benson who made the wrong call. There is certainly more to this than that meets the eye. I would prefer to call it a profound anti-India bias which has been building up ever since Steve Waugh's team lost in India. Any takers?

Posted by VKFan on (August 14, 2008, 11:43 GMT)

I have a blog post dealing with exactly this topic at: http://cricket-stalker.blogspot.com/2008/08/tv-referral-system.html

As I argue there, getting rid of the "benefit of the doubt" is not a good thing. That principle has existed in cricket for a long time, for good reason. The very nature of the game requires it. The batsman has only one chance - one mistake and you're out. The bowler has an essentially unlimited number of chances. Secondly, especially in cases like LBW requiring judgment on the part of the umpire, the "benefit of the doubt" principle ensures that the umpire errs on the side of caution. Imagine what would happen if umpires started giving batsmen LBW even if they weren't sure about the trajectory of the ball. The batsman has to stand somewhere, after all, and the pads come into play quite often in cricket. By using technology to rule on LBWs, we make the game too hard to play. It will require changes in batting technique, and make the game less interesting.

Posted by MVGLW on (August 14, 2008, 11:36 GMT)

when studying the whole set of matches what we saw was that all matches could not carry beyond 4 days play just because 'benefit of the doubt' has been wiped out and the chances batsmen got on this is no more.unless you bat with real cricket tachnique you can not survive.It has wiped out 'bias','so called obvious mistakes'and 'cheating'in game of cricket. It has brought clean game of play.This will be a good answer to Australian cricketers who wants the win by hook or crook! There had been lot of examples where the Australians have won matches by putting pressure on umpires who were helpless.This review system is a must where Australia plays.Overrall this will create a bunch of honest cricketers in time to come!

Posted by TissaPerera on (August 14, 2008, 2:11 GMT)

Many writers try to politicise this review system. They try to analyse unsuccessful and successful reviews by one team vs the other. They try to put it as Sri Lanka vs India issue rather than how many decisions have been corrected.

And Never try to see the comparision between how many errors (decisions) the system has corrected vs how many errors it had created. My advice to all these writers, please look at the system as a whole and see if it had corrected errors or not. Don't try to politicise and put it favours some team and not the other etc etc.

Give this system a go, Use more reliable Technology if necessary. Fine tune the decisions alone the way. this is the way forward.

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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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