February 9, 2011

Will the UDRS be proved a good thing?

The review system has, faults notwithstanding, the potential to be a boon for cricket. If Indian players and the BCCI warm to it during the World Cup, its future is bright

According to Professor Sherry Turkle's new book Alone Together - Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Japan's lonely elderly have found a companion in Paro, a cuddly robotic baby seal that responds to the human voice and a kindly hand. The relationship may be utterly one-sided - the robot, of course, lacks the capacity to care - and the level of communication questionable, but the humans have felt the benefits. To dismiss this as self-delusion is to miss the point: owners believe they have found a friend. And perception, in this case, is all.

From cloning to chads, finding reasons to be fearful about automation and technology is scarcely a challenge. Professor Turkle is especially condemnatory about the way Facebook is eroding our ability to experience the full, rich gamut of human experience. But when the benefits outweigh the costs, why resist? Which is why, while much is hanging on this tenth World Cup, including the very future of the 50-over fray itself, nothing will matter more than the performance of, and reception to, the Umpire Decision Review System.

For the first time in a major global event the UDRS is about to be deployed, albeit without the infra-red nous of Hot Spot, which would have been such an asset amid the oft-deafening din and indifferent light. As with any modern cricketing venture, the future of one of the most potentially far-reaching concepts the old game has ever known will almost certainly depend on whether India can a) come to terms with it and b) exploit it.

Trouble is, mental roadblocks were erected in Colombo and Galle from the moment Sri Lanka trounced Dhoni and pals on the review count when the UDRS took its first tentative steps in 2008. The irony in the unfortunate unavailability of Hot Spot lies not with the fact that this military-tested gizmo has proven so effective in tennis, but that it was the one device favoured by both Simon Taufel and the BCCI itself.

To claim, nevertheless, that technological gremlins are reason enough to chuck out baby with bathwater is to misunderstand, wilfully or otherwise, the system's purpose. The aim is to eliminate, as far as humanly/machinely possible, something the ICC originally characterised, rather cleverly, as "howlers". This is not about attaining perfection but reducing imperfection. Only the latter is within the capabilities of mere mortals. Or even, bless 'em, those nifty machines.

LET'S REWIND to the hotly contested conception of the review system, for which Senaka Weeratana, a lawyer, believes we must thank/berate him - and not, repeat not, the ICC. He has been arguing for some time, and with some vehemence, that it was his letter to Colombo's Sunday Times, on April 6, 1997, the first of many such, that sowed the seeds. In an ocean of common sense, that letter likened the players' right to challenge to the appeal of a "dissatisfied litigant". As Simon Barnes put it recently in the Times: "Referral is not dissent, it is a legitimate process of truth-seeking."

At Old Trafford three months after Senaka's missive was published, Greg Blewett was given out to a horribly un-straightforward catch by Nasser Hussain - for which the available TV replays, foreshortening as they still do, proved inconclusive. Shane Warne went beserk; Alan Crompton, Australia's tour manager, dipped into Greek mythology. TV replays were already deployed for line decisions, he noted: how can you half-open Pandora's Box? That it took more than a decade to extend the principle is to be lamented, but better late than never. A decade and a half down the road and the big-screen test is finally here.

That there are inconsistencies and grey areas was underlined during the Ashes on an almost daily basis, descending to the unsightliness of Ricky Ponting and Aleem Dar's one-sided re-enactment of that Faisalabad fracas between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana. (Fines have clearly been no deterrent to Prickly Ricky, so bring on the red and yellow cards.)

More encouragingly, even while observing Michael Clarke swing effortlessly from Selfless Man of Principle to Cheating Bustard (for which, to give him his due, he did publicly and swiftly apologise), even a fully qualified cynic could sense a small revival for the occasionally noble art of walking. "There's less incentive to stay," as David Gower delicately put it on air after Clarke had thin-edged in Brisbane and offed himself. If you know you're going to look like a charlatan long before the morning papers slide under your hotel room door, why not buff up the image?

Technology has also, glory be, been a boon for spinners. "I wasn't a fan [of the UDRS] until I realised I could get 50 more lbws," chirped Graeme Swann. "It used to be so easy for left-handers to stick their leg down the middle and get away with it. I think reviews are the biggest single factor in the spinners' rise over the last couple of years."

On the other hand, as Sambit Bal has pointed out, whereas last year's haul of 32 successful reviews suggests the system has succeeded manfully/machine-fully in limiting those aforementioned howlers, the 89 unsuccessful ones infer that players are being manipulative, challenging "in hope rather than with conviction". Witness Ian Bell in Sydney as 2011 began. Given out caught off Shane Watson by Dar, he only requested a review after consulting his partner, Matt Prior. Something snick-like was certainly audible but Hot Spot detected nowt and, after a tolerable delay, Dar, having "gone upstairs", recanted. Whereupon Snicko, employed only for the viewers' benefit, appeared to confirm an edge, undermining Taufel's claim, on the manufacturer's website, that Hot Spot is "100%" effective. All of a sudden, our Belly bore rather less resemblance to the cherubic choirboy of common perception.

How in the name of Steve Bucknor's right forefinger can it possibly be right and proper that a batsman be adjudged leg-before in Perth yet survive the same delivery in Pune? It's not a matter of all or nothing; better some than none. It is a matter of principle and sound governance

Then there are those tactical/psychological reviews that seek only to boost a batsman or bowler's confidence, emphasising their value, or even as an early statement of aggression - "We're perfectly willing to waste one if it means getting under your skin…"

In the wake of the mini-firestorm in Brisbane after Ponting claimed he had caught Alastair Cook, the MCC World Cricket Committee, choc-a-bloc with illustrious ex-players, proposed that disputed low catches should not be sent to the third umpire because the cameras rarely clarify matters. Ah, but surely rarely is better than never? Ponting has long advocated that such catches should "stay on the field", i.e. be settled by some ancient, grossly exaggerated and ritually abused code of gentlemanly honour. Those WCC sages argued, quite rightly, that this would be fiendishly awkward to implement, so leave it to the umps.

I also heard an intriguing proposal from Alan Fordham, once an England A opener, now one of the wisest heads at the ECB. Rather than two reviews per innings, why not proffer a certain number per match, say half a dozen? That way, he reasons, there would be less chance of the more conspicuous breed of howler that spared Mike Hussey in Perth when England had run out of reviews. Make it four per side and I'm with him.

Enough food for thought, then, to nourish Archimedes. Happily the ICC is not indisposed to the odd tinker (though specifics are awaited). As chief executive Haroon Lorgat stressed mid-Ashes, just as temperatures and tempers were rising: "It is not there to get a wicket when you are struggling to find one, it is there to fix the obvious errors." (The decision to dispense with the less seemly "howler" was doubtless both conscious and corporate). Cook's referral on the fourth day in Brisbane, after being given out caught off an arm, was, according to Lorgat, a "classic" example, the very quintessence, of the UDRS. "That's exactly what it is for," he proclaimed, "and I'm quite confident we are near to the ideal. We will never have it 100% right." For once, it was hard to find much fault with a dispatch from Dubai.

Indeed, almost everywhere, for all the misgivings and gripes, the ayes have outnumbered the nays, and by some margin. "It's something that we all have to get used to, and it's taken us a while," admitted AB de Villiers, yet he'd like to see it "being used in all cricket". The bottom line? Has the UDRS made cricket juster? One proven edge would have achieved that; Hawk-Eye et al have delivered dozens more.

Of course, the gnawing problem of financing still looms as large and destructively as King Kong atop the Empire State Building. The principal quandary posed by the UDRS right now is neither its technical shortcomings nor ethical ramifications. Given the available solution, how in the name of Steve Bucknor's right forefinger can it possibly be right and proper that a batsman be adjudged leg-before in Perth yet survive the same delivery in Pune? It's not a matter of all or nothing; better some than none. It is a matter of principle and sound governance.

If the UDRS is deemed A Good Thing, then it is surely time to acknowledge that it is every bit as worthy of investment as stadiums and floodlights. And if Lorgat and his confreres can't persuade the broadcasters to go 50-50 on the cost of the technology, its priorities would be called into question even more fervently than they are already.

And so back to that final hurdle: India. All may rest on an early and successful referral by Sachin Tendulkar, or a profitable review against him. Simplistic and borderline insulting? Perhaps. Then again, for mankind in general and cricket-kind in particular, the future has a habit of hingeing on molehills of fate rather than mountains of reason.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 10, 2011, 14:53 GMT

    @samavb. I agree with you. You are a wise man(person?). A voice in the wilderness. It is costly in terms of $$ and time but if it is not available for every bad decision it should not be implemented. Why are a few wickets more important than the rest? Having said that, a deterrent for grossly misusing it should be there so that we don't make the overall cricket experience suffer.

  • Luvli on February 10, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    hot-spot should have been included for the World Cup UDRS - end of story. I'm convinced that the failure to include hot-spot technology in WC2011 will be frustrating for spectators/fans, commentators, players and umpires - and will be harshly critiqued during and even after the tournament has concluded. Another ordinary decision by the ICC in the oracles opinion

  • am on February 10, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    the moment u keep restrictions on number of referrals there is every chance that it will go against many ...what if after all the three referrals are over and then u r in a situation where if referral was taken correct decision was made? ..and how can anyone limit the number of times the team can ask for referral.. ? it will be more than handy if they take out that restriction....and teams will welcome it more if it plays a part in correcting every bad decision.. which should be main intention of URDS and nothing else.. otherwise there is no point in using it... even without hotspot..they can still use it when slo motion cameras are operating from different angles.. and anyway umpires are referring to third umpire for any thing they are not sure so why not use technology more effeciently to overcome some howlers . dont put restriction on number of referrals.. that will be biggest drawback of URDS and that might be one of the reasons why Indian team doesnt want it to be in place..

  • TRex on February 10, 2011, 5:16 GMT

    I don't understand why Sachin Tendulkar who has been at the receiving end of many wooful decisions is against this.

  • J Ranjith on February 10, 2011, 2:46 GMT

    How about this option? Let's see if anyone agrees with me. UDRS is a machine as per the author so it should be able to quickly process and give the result in few seconds. So let's say a wrong decision is given on field. There is no need of review system, chair a fourth umpire and ask him to operate UDRS constantly and give the answer in few seconds after every ball. So, when a wrong decision happens on the field, let the fourth umpire announce the correct decision by any correct means as quickly as possible. Then show the replays to public and TV. So, almost all wrong decisions would be corrected without wasting time at all, and without asking anybody to review or without Ponting's tragic attempts. This way, you don't have to worry about 4 or 6 reviews and still lament after running out of all reviews for yet another howler. This way, it's more closer to ideal or eliminating imperfections. Of course, not much drama. If you need drama, let it be as it is now, I'm happy without UDRS too.

  • Dummy4 on February 10, 2011, 2:44 GMT

    Why do you go to a doctor when you are ill are you sure medicine (a technology ) will certainly cure it......No . Technology only increses probability of right decision.

    We all live by the rule of prbability.

    It is proven that use of technology increses right decision significantly. Apart from Simon toufel Aleem Darno other umpire gives even 50 % right decisions in game. People only remember wrongly given out decisions. there are numerous wrong not out lbw decisions by umpiress because ther are too unsure even when ball is hitting midle stump. Yes relying on soly hot spot is not good because obviously in case of fine nick bat doesnt absorb enough energy to radiate enough heat to show bright spot. In that case sniko must be used in conjunction with it. However hawkeye trajectory extrapolation is perfect. as it is based on newton laws and you cannot deny newton laws

  • Steven on February 10, 2011, 2:35 GMT

    What exactly is the rule when it comes to benefit of the doubt? For UDRS it should be 'benefit of the doubt goes to the umpire', so decisions should stand unless there is reason to overturn them. This seems to be applied for LBW but not for catches. Too often for catches the UDRS seems to try to make a decision rather than look for evidence showing that the orginal decision was wrong.

  • BillyBlue on February 10, 2011, 0:46 GMT

    @Zahidsaltin - Totally agree with you. Adding commerciasl & water breaks will provide the finance & conversely the incentive to fund UDRS. I think 3 challenges per team should be a minimum, but no more than 5. Failed challenges should count for a loss of 1-2 balls faced in the over (if challenged by the batting side) and for 1-5 runs added to the batting side (if challeged by the bowling side). This would prevent unnecessary challenges from batsmen & bowlers for the fear of the penalty costing the team the match. Finally the 3rd Umpire HAS TO BE MORE PROACTIVE! He must be given the authority & BE EXPECTED TO review & step in, if he considers a call erroneous, even if not requested by onfield umpires or players. We do it anyways to check to see, if any parts of the players body touched the rope, when they are sliding/diving to stop a boundry. Why not take that principle further?

  • Dennis on February 9, 2011, 22:22 GMT

    UDRS needs to be implemented , why not use the third umpire for this , after all he is suppose to be watching the game and take the challenges away from batsmen who waste challenges .

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2011, 22:00 GMT

    @DC75, this is not the NFL, it is cricket. It lot more detailed and not simplistic like NFL, there are so many rules and laws that a player must follow. Plus we don't have a timeout in cricket. Maybe deducting an over for an unsuccessful attempt. Plus the replays are never shown on big screen tv in the sub continent because of close calls making public angry with their favorite players' wicket on the line, the replays are only shown to the crowd outside the sub continent.

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