West Indies in Australia 2009-10 December 6, 2009

Umpire review system not working

There have been too many contradictions between what the UDRS was implemented for and what it often achieves;more will inevitably follow

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 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on December 8, 2009, 23:03 GMT

    I agree with Chris Gayle and Tony Cosier and Umpire Dickie Bird.Technology use while great for TV coverage and enhancing the viewing experience of the Cricket fan shouldn't be used to aid on field umpiring decisions.The time has come to take out ALL technology related umpiring decisions out of cricket and return all power to the two onfield umpires like it was in the old days.One of the charms of cricket or sport for that matter is that it is played by human beings played with all their strengths and weaknesses and yes all those human mistakes, add to the theatre and charm of cricket.Take that away you take an essential element that makes sport especially cricket enjoyable and educational. Yes that element as ChrisGayle says is the human element. Taking the GOOD with the BAD.The on field umpires decision should be final while a game is in progress and that should be the end of the matter.Human mistakes wether in life or cricket helps grow, it should be the same for umpires and players.

  • L on December 8, 2009, 16:29 GMT

    I agree with Tony that only line decisions, for stumpings and run outs, that prompted the original use of technology, can be accurately determined from replays. Hnece the reviews should be limited to these cases.

  • Derek on December 8, 2009, 15:41 GMT

    Apologies of course I meant Asad Rauf. On reflection we don't really need umpires just back to a time when cricket was the sport of GENTLEMEN, snick it and walk; touch the boundary ropes, indicate thus, drop a catch don't do a Bollinger.

  • Derek on December 8, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    Forget about the reviews: Traditionally test matches are umpired by neutrals so why when Mr Benson could no longer stand the heat; did we have an australian as the third umpire? With Aleem Dar already suffering withh is back he should have been the third umpire with the substitute umpire allowed on the field operating from square leg. While the other standing umpire operating at both bowling ends.

  • James on December 8, 2009, 14:58 GMT

    I don't believe umpires should be allowed to refer to technology until after the session (if they think this may help their performance in the long term). Hearing, seeing, judgment, coolness etc. are part of what is cultivated in cricket. A snick is what can be perceived 22 yards away, and what the wicketkeeper, or even the batsman, thinks is irrelevant, except insofar as, again, it may later help umpiring standards. If a fielder wants to say he grassed a catch or touched the rope, or a batsman wants to say he hit the ball, that is called spirit, another thing technology cannot help. Technology is of no use except as a somewhat useful critic. In fact it is of no interest to me unless it is preceded by human judgment that has a consequence.

  • SRINI on December 8, 2009, 11:28 GMT

    I am perplexed by the mixed signals cricket officials players commentators and fans send out when teh question of using technology in making umpiring decisions. On the one hand they all rave and rant about bad decisions and then do a fosbury flop and say that the human element is part of cricket. Can we shed hypocrisy and make our stand clear and consistent?

  • Trevor on December 8, 2009, 10:16 GMT

    Here's a couple of ideas.

    ONE, which I prefer, is to remove both team's right of referral, but allow the 3rd umpire to intervene if he sees a glaring error has been made (lbw off edge of bat, etc.)

    SECOND would be to make teams think longer and harder about frivolous referrals by putting say a 10 run penalty on unsuccessful referrals.

    ... OK, no I don't like that second option either, but if we are to retain the referral system we will have to do something about frivolous referrals slowing down the game.

    There is no incentive to be an umpire these days. All you get to do is hold the bowlers cap and count up to 6 - no need to make any decisions because if you do you will get referred anyway. I suppose it's easy money, but that's not what umpiring is about. It is ridiculous that so many of them refer to TV replay for runouts that are out by a metre!

    I'd much rather see a return to the old principle - right or wrong, the umpire is always right! And live with it!

  • Steve on December 8, 2009, 3:08 GMT

    I don't believe there is anything wrong with using the technology, however I do believe there is an error with the way it is instigated. I don't believe the "Two Referrals per team" rule is entirely fair. The West Indies first innings in Brisbane showed these can be used up very early and then for the rest of their innings they were without the use of technology.

    I believe the Umpire should be the one who is responsible for ordering the referral. If he has any doubt he can order a review. Granted this will cause more referrals and hence more time but there is a certain kind of anticipation when a decision is referred which builds up the crowd.

  • Ramakrishnan on December 8, 2009, 1:29 GMT

    Any new system introduced is likely to bring up debates and it is the Administrators of the game who have to look into all the aspects to set right deficiencies. Once this is done, it will be just a matter of time before everyone concerned will get used to the system and continue with the game. ICC should seek an explanation from Umpire Mark Benson about his sudden withdrawal in the midst of a Test match. Whether he likes it or not, the concerned umpire should have officiated the full duration of the test match and then taken a decision (unless ofcourse he is really sick as to be unable to stand for five days). Anyone who is sick would seek medical treatment at the place he/she has fallen sick before embarking on a journey and in this case, ICC should take note of what happened in the case of Mark Benson. ICC should also ensure that all test playing nations should implement the UDRS and no choice should be given to any nation in this regard.

  • Philip on December 7, 2009, 23:17 GMT

    Umpires word was law. Umpires were not right all the time. We live in a modern world where we have had slow motion replays now going back more than 25 years. Yet we as viewers are struggling to get to grips with the umpires and their poor decision making. Poor decisions were made through the life of cricket. That does not warrant continuation of accepting the onfied umpires decisions. Things have changed. There is going to be teething problems. Umpires to understand this more than anyone as they are the ones who are making the decisions. It may be an off-field umpire but it still remains with them. Run outs. No one is arguing about the replay system are they? Hey lets give this system a run. Umpires are already under pressure. The need to accept that this systems is there to help them and cricket. Cricket has to be fair otherwise it is not cricket. Pundits will have their own views. Viewers need have input too. Philip Gnana, New Malden, Surrey

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