November 14, 2011

No DRS, no drama

The Kotla Test showed that decisions unaided by technology don't always spell disaster, nor are they a mark of old-fashioned, rigid values

Even the ICC will concede the current situation in international cricket is far from ideal. Some series are played with the Decision Review System (DRS) in place, with all the available technology, some with the DRS but with limited use of technology, while in others there are no reviews at all. However, this enforced compromise in international cricket allows us to watch and compare the effects of these different approaches to the game.

The West Indies tour of India, broadcast under the direction of the BCCI, has no DRS, and minimal use of technology in its television coverage, while Australia's tour of South Africa is being played with the DRS, using all the technology available.

As for my stand on the DRS, to start with, like a typical cricketer, I was opposed to technology. But when technology became an integral part of decision-making, I started to see some benefits and joined the masses who had begun to support the DRS. But now, watching the India-West Indies series, which takes you back to a time when there was limited use of technology, I am beginning to see some positives in the old-fashioned approach to cricket.

The BCCI's stand on the DRS is well known, but during the India-England one-day series the board went a step further and decided that the ball-tracking results for lbws wouldn't be broadcast for the benefit of television viewers either. I was outraged when I first learnt of this decision, but with time I began to understand the logic behind it. Why show the viewers what the board considers a flawed piece of technology and mislead them? Of course, the counter-argument would be: why not continue showing it as a viewing enhancement, as it was originally meant to be? But let's not forget that what started off as a "value-add" on TV had such a powerful effect on fans, players and administrators that it forced its way into the core of the game. This viewing enhancement was too potent to be used as just a television graphic.

The one thing I particularly liked about the DRS-free, ball-tracking-free coverage of the India-West Indies series was illustrated by the decision against Gautam Gambhir. He was given out leg-before by Rod Tucker in the second innings at the Kotla. It looked to many like the ball could have been slipping down leg. A review may have given Gambhir a lifeline, but because there was no DRS to confirm the line of the delivery, everyone - the players and the fans watching on TV - just moved on. Without ball-tracking technology, which could have thrown up further doubts, the dismissal incident did not become an issue. Obviously Gambhir would feel hard done by that there was no DRS, but his was one of the 40 wickets that can fall in a Test. Is one wicket that big a deal in the larger scheme of things?

Of course, there are obvious advantages of using technology. Having an all-inclusive DRS helps keep calm among players in a high-intensity contest, because they feel the best possible effort has been made to arrive at the right decision

Gambhir was out, not so much because the umpire decided it wasn't going down leg, but because he played across the line. And with no one making a fuss about the decision, that is what he would have concluded himself in the dressing room.

Those who tend to be dramatic and suggest that one wicket can indeed change the course of the game are looking at it the wrong way. A team never loses a match because of one moment in the game; it's always more than one event - in fact, a series of events - that determines a team's defeat. But often, taking our anger out on the umpires after a game is lost seems to give us greater relief.

The BCCI's decision has also made the umpire the boss again, as it should be. I still can't come to terms with the fact that the umpire's finger going up is not the end of the matter, as it once was. I also strongly believe that umpiring has become better over the years, and we have to thank TV technology for it. So maybe it's time to give the umpires the final authority again. Considering the number of decisions an umpire gives in one Test, howlers are rare.

Once again, we are reminded of the virtues of the old methods, which cannot be dismissed as signs of old-fashioned, rigid thinking. It's about which is better for the game as a whole in the long run. To rubbish this approach because it's being led by the BCCI is not right.

Of course, there are obvious advantages of using technology, and we saw its best endorsement at Newlands. Having an all-inclusive DRS helps keep calm among players in a high-intensity contest, because they feel the best possible effort has been made to arrive at the right decision. Secondly, the viewers, who drive the cricket market, love a DRS situation. They lean forward on their sofas with great excitement to see what transpires as technology takes its course. What the DRS also does well is help balance the game out by taking much of the human element out of decision-making, which has always been based on the principle that the batsman should get the benefit of the doubt.

But I don't like how the DRS gets far too much attention during a match. When a not-out decision gets reviewed and overturned, and the batman starts walking back to the dressing room, the talk revolves around the DRS rather than how good the ball was or what mistake the batsman made. Cricket should always be about the players, not umpires and video evidence. And like cricketers, technology can have a good or a bad game; it had a good run at Newlands but it failed in England.

We are running out of time on this issue. Very soon the ICC will have to standardise playing conditions in international cricket: it has to be DRS for all or for none. I am glad I don't have to vote on this.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here