January 17, 2010

The UDRS and Pakistan are failing

The ICC needs to take full responsibility for the running of the review system, and Pakistan need to own up to their poor out cricket and questionable tactics

There was a grandstand finish to the old Test year and an excellent start to the new one but the same can't be said for the Umpire Decision Review System and Pakistan.

From a playing point of view, the year finished with a flourish. India beat Sri Lanka with Virender Sehwag reviving thoughts of Sir Donald Bradman by scoring just under 300 runs in a Test match day. New Zealand and Pakistan played a hard-fought tied series, and most importantly for Test cricket, West Indies showed signs of life with a spirited conclusion to their series in Australia.

Then a thrilling draw in Cape Town, and Australia's amazing turnaround victory at the SCG kicked off the New Year in fine style. Test cricket was alive and thriving; people were talking not so much about how it could be saved but its amazing ability to capture emotions.

The UDRS, in its latest form, with the predictive path of Hawkeye being utilised, was introduced in November. We were told by the ICC the aim was to eliminate the howler, and hopefully make players more honest.

The system has failed to live up to its billing. The bulk of the decisions being reviewed are lbw appeals that are marginal at best. Fifty-fifty decisions have always been part of the game and are generally received magnanimously by players. Now they are being regularly reviewed and the umpire's original decision is, on most occasions, shown to be a good one - one the players would have accepted graciously before the UDRS was introduced.

Worse still, players are now reviewing decisions in the hope that the system will make a mistake. A system that is constantly being fine-tuned will have flaws and mistakes will occur. While it's accepted that humans make mistakes, it is sometimes forgotten that so do computers.

Rather than encouraging batsmen to walk, the system has influenced them to stay around more and make the sign of the T. Unfortunately, when the system was unveiled, there was mention of poor umpiring but no talk about how to set things right. So far the UDRS seems to be having an adverse affect on umpires, with some even saying it changes their decision-making process.

The ICC made a fundamental mistake when it first introduced the third-umpire experiment. It relied on television to provide the tools for the system rather than taking on complete responsibility for the process. This has resulted in certain tools not being utilised in some series, because the television company involved deemed them either unnecessary or too expensive.

The ICC should provide all the tools it thinks are required to complete the decision-making process effectively. If they then want to reclaim those costs by including them in the rights fee, so be it; the important thing is every series should be played under the same conditions.

Pakistan have long been the least willing of all the Test-playing nations to own up to their failings

So far the UDRS has made a very good case for the process to be taken out of the players' hands. If the aim is to eliminate the howler, it would be better off if the process was under the control of the off-field official, who is more likely to overturn only those decisions where there are obvious mistakes.

In the case of Pakistan's catastrophic loss in Sydney, no blame could be apportioned to machine; it was all down to human error. First there was the abysmal keeping of Kamran Akmal, followed by the equally timid captaincy of Mohammad Yousuf. Pakistan have long been the least willing of all the Test-playing nations to own up to their failings.

I recall a 2004 conversation with their former champion batsman Javed Miandad. He believed Pakistan struggled to win overseas because for too long they had relied on help at home to win. Help in the form of favourable pitches and hometown umpiring, and when this wasn't forthcoming they had little to fall back on.

It's time Pakistan cricket looked in the mirror and owned up to poor out cricket and questionable tactics as their two biggest hindrances in improvement. Skill isn't a failing with Pakistan cricket but execution is.

Both Pakistan cricket and the UDRS are desperately in need of good old-fashioned honest appraisal.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist