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There have been too many contradictions between what the UDRS was implemented for and what it often achieves;more will inevitably follow
December 6, 2009
It seemed a good idea at the time but, like the Federation, daylight savings time and the West Indies Cricket Board website, Test cricket's Umpire Decision Review System - the UDRS, in the modern way of text-speak - simply isn't working in practice.
According to Dave Richardson, the former South African wicketkeeper, now the ICC's cricket operations manager, "the first priority of the system is to eliminate obvious mistakes". For predictable reasons, there have been a number of instances where the exact opposite has been the case. More will inevitably follow.
The latest was on the first day of the second Test between Australia and West Indies in Adelaide on Friday when Asad Rauf, the third umpire tucked away in his special room 100 yards away, advised Mark Benson to change his considered not-out decision on a wicketkeeper's catch against Shivnarine Chanderpaul on the flimsy evidence provided on his television screen.
It was Rauf's second such review of a Benson call on an Australian appeal against Chanderpaul, then in his habitual mode of digging West Indies out of a hole. The first found no cause for the umpire in the middle to alter the same decision, also for an edge to the keeper. In both cases the evidence was uncertain and his ruling should have remained.
According to the ICC guidelines, if the TV umpire cannot decide on a review "with a high degree of confidence", he should report to his standing colleague that the evidence is inconclusive. As such, the original judgement stands. In each case, there seemed no way that Rauf could have come to his conclusion "with a high degree of confidence". He reported as much the first time and Chanderpaul stayed. Not so the second time.
The ICC states that the third umpire "should not give answers conveying likelihoods or probabilities".
Rauf was quoted in Australian newspapers as stating, as he would, that he saw "a clear edge" and that he was "sure" Chanderpaul had hit the ball. "Clear" and "sure" were not words used by those passing judgement from the press and television boxes - or even from a lounge chair in the middle of the night on the other side of the world.
These decisions were on edged catches. Generally, the official in front of the TV gets his verdict right on lbws, as Rauf did on Friday when Dwayne Bravo contested Benson's too-high lbw verdict against him. But not always.
On the third day of the Kensington Oval Test between West Indies and England last May, Daryl Harper seemed so confused by the assembled mass of technology before him - Hot Spot, slow-motion replays, stump microphone sound, pitch mat, ball-tracking - that he had a hat-trick of questionable lbw decisions. The reasons for such errors are clear.
The first is that television replays, on which the UDRS is based, are two-dimensional, not three. There is no way that thin snicks (as both of Chanderpaul's on Friday) and ground-level catches can be detected with any certainty. Indeed, Cricket Australia has, for some time, excluded the latter category from its reviews in domestic cricket. Nor can Hawk Eye be entirely trusted to steer the umpire along the right path to an lbw verdict. Only line decisions, for stumpings and run outs, that prompted the original use of technology, can be accurately determined from replays.
The second cause is that umpires are not versed in properly interpreting what they see on their screens. They are flawless on the laws, can recite them in their sleep, and are accustomed making their split-second decisions on the field based on their knowledge and experience. But they are generally clueless about frames per second and other complicated technical data. They need an expert in such matters by their side to guide them.
The UDRS was introduced in 2005 during the ICC's so-called Super Series in Australia. It had the support of nine of the organisation's ten full members, England demurring on the grounds that it allowed players to question the umpire's decision which went against a basic tenet of the game.
The alternative, as used in that other so-called Super Series, of the Stanford variety, was to give the standing umpires alone the option of checking any doubts they have over a decision through replays.
In spite of its flaws, it took some time to be widely accepted. Even now some boards seem to be averring although the ICC is strongly promoting the UDRS use by the players. Richardson noted that, in the 11 Tests prior to the present series in Australia and New Zealand, correct decisions improved by six per cent. He also claimed that the system was ensuring that players more readily observed the spirit of the game.
"Initially when we spoke we thought a possible indirect benefit might be that batsmen, when they do edge a ball, won't hang around and will walk anyway because they will be inevitably given out in the long run and they might be shown up as, not cheats, but certainly not playing within the spirit," he told Cricinfo during the first Test between Australia and West Indies. "We've found in the trials that the vociferous appealing, and appealing when you know it's not out, just to try to convince the umpire, has seemed to go out of the game."
He might want to have a rethink after the first five days of the series in Australia. By his theory, someone wasn't playing within the spirit of the game in Adelaide - either wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, captain Ricky Ponting and the Australians in appealing against the first not-out decision that was upheld by Rauf or Chanderpaul for standing his ground on the second when Rauf ruled he hit it.
If the TV evidence was inconclusive on whether Chanderpaul snicked the ball or not, it clearly revealed Ponting's annoyance when Benson's first rejection of their appeal was confirmed by Rauf. Ponting approached Benson to explain the decision and did the same when the fourth umpire, Bruce Oxenford, came out on to the field at the drinks break. According to Ponting, "the new system was meant to stop this sort of thing happening but it didn't".
West Indies captain Chris Gayle has made his opposition to the UDRS clear from the start. It was a view initially shared by Ponting although he seems to have since come around to accepting it.
Here is what he said after the 2005 trial in the Super Series: "I have never been a big fan of the technology. I'll always say that, just for the simple fact that the technology that has been used and experimented with over the last few years hasn't been accurate enough anyway to give you conclusive evidence on dismissals.
"It's just part of the game as far as I am concerned," he added. "You take the good with the bad, that's what the game is all about. The human element in the game is vital to cricket."
Such a sentiment hasn't changed, even if the ICC is unlikely to backtrack on UDRS.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 yearsFeeds: Tony Cozier
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