Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd Test, Colombo, 2nd day

Not out the right call

The decision review system is not perfect. That's why it was right to reprieve Tharanga Paranavitana on the second afternoon in Colombo

Brydon Coverdale

September 17, 2011

Comments: 39 | Text size: A | A

Tharanga Paranavitana takes a run, Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd Test, SSC, Colombo, 2nd day, September 17, 2011
Tharanga Paranavitana was the beneficiary of a tight call © AFP
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How much can Hawk-Eye's lbw predictions be trusted? One-hundred percent? Not at all? If the answer is somewhere in between, then it makes sense for the ICC to apply the technology with a margin of error. And if there is a margin of error, there must be a line at which doubt disappears. And if there is a line, decisions will occasionally come down to millimetres.

Enter Tharanga Paranavitana and Trent Copeland. On the second afternoon at the SSC, Paranavitana was saved by an imaginary vertical line down the middle of the off stump. Had Hawk-Eye predicted that the centre of the ball was hitting that line or inside it, Aleem Dar's on-field not-out decision would have been overturned.

Instead, a fraction less than half the ball was within that 'out' zone and Copeland was denied despite viewers at home seeing the graphic of a ball smashing into off stump. "That's ridiculous. That can't be the umpire's call," Tony Greig said on the TV commentary. Twitter lit up with denunciations of the DRS. It was an infinitesimal margin.

But millimetres have always mattered in cricket. Why should this line be any different?

Pitch the ball a whisker outside leg stump and lbw is out of the question. Fail to plant a sliver of your heel behind the crease and you've bowled a no-ball. Slide in the outfield and kiss the boundary rope with body or clothing and you give away a four. These lines provide players, umpires and viewers with certainty.

So does the imaginary thread that bisects each of the outside stumps. A player knows that when he makes the 'T' signal that unless there is overwhelming evidence that the on-field umpire got it wrong, his review will be wasted. Ball-tracking is not intended as an omnipotent umpire-killer. The review system is based on the tenet that the on-field umpire is correct unless comprehensively proven otherwise.

"It's not necessarily about benefit of the doubt to the batsman," one of the world's leading umpires, Simon Taufel said earlier in this series, "but that the benefit of doubt goes with the original decision, and that's sometimes hard for people, and sometimes umpires, to get their head around."

To remove that premise is to turn umpires into no more than middlemen between computers and players. Retaining some of the human element in a game that has relied on it for 150 years cannot be a bad thing.

The answer is not to throw out the predictions made by ball-tracking entirely. A bowler should be able to have a not-out decision overturned if the ball is clearly hitting the middle of middle stump. But neither should ball-tracking be trusted implicitly on something so tenuous as clipping the top outside corner of the bail.

Significant faith in the technology would also be required if the imaginary line was to be moved to the outside of the stump instead of the middle. Is the science that good? Why not err on the side of caution?

Nor should the TV official tell his colleague what percentage of the ball is hitting and allow the on-field umpire to make the call. Some umpires would overturn if 1% of the ball was hitting and others would refuse to do so even if 49% was striking the stumps. Players deserve to know where they stand before requesting a review.

Under the current system, the rules are rigid and transparent. Perhaps a team could be allowed to keep its review if an lbw is shown to be an "umpire's call" according to the system. If it's that close, why penalise players for asking the question?

But unless ball-tracking is thrown out entirely or trusted completely, there must be a line. Wherever that imaginary border is placed, there will be line-ball decisions. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dkarthur on (September 18, 2011, 8:09 GMT)

The problem I have always had with HawkEye is calibration. Ideally you'd set it up in the morning and someone would throw down 100 balls or so - the system would process them and predict a hit or miss at the crease or just a tad further out. You could then compare that to the actual results. However it is clearly unacceptable to throw a hard cricket ball 100 times into a pitch about to be used! Could you do it on the pitch next to the live one? Unfortunately not as then all the angles for the cameras have changed and you have calibrated nothing.

Another interesting thing is that the people who push hawk eye have never offered this sort of demo even in a controlled environment. (What a great doco that would be - "The Proving of HawkEye!". I reckon that a demo like this would make me a lot more comfortable with it.

Posted by leave_it_to_the_umps on (September 18, 2011, 7:44 GMT)

I was not a fan of DRS initially but am being won over to the benefits of removing the howler from the game. That said this decision was a howler and i cant understand why it wasn't out. DRS said that 3/4 of the ball would be hitting off stump. If that had of hit the stumps the stump would have been cartwheeling away! That is a howler in my book! I understand that there is a margin for error but this is not a ball just clipping the stumps and knocking 1 bail off where you can give the benefit to the umpires decision! If you are giving the benefit it should be EITHER that it half the ball has to be hitting OR that part of the ball must be hitting the middle of the stump NOT both cos if the DRS requires a margin of error of 3/4 of the ball then it is not reliable and should just not be used at all!

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 7:15 GMT)

The purpose of introducing DRS was to eliminate howlers. In the case of marginal decisions, the benefit of doubt must stay with the batsman. Players all around the world would not grudge if the above two principles are upheld. But the DRS in the current form is failing to achieve these objectives. We saw in the English summer how marginal decisions went against the batsmen (Rahul Dravid on a number of occasions), and how howlers were not overturned because of how DRS has been currently adopted (Harbhajan's LBW to Broad immediately comes to mind). Yesterday's decision was also another case in point. To the naked eye, it looked quite plumb. And hence it became another howler which was not overturned by DRS. Therefore, to justify the DRS decision of y'day by making claims about millimeters is like trying to split hairs. Administrators should attempt to achieve the fundamental objectives of DRS. We need to look at the big picture, not the millimeters as suggested in this article.

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 6:56 GMT)

Ever since India has stood out its neck protesting the unreliability of DRS, two things are conspicuously happening. the umpires are constantly going out of their way to victimise India by giving all marginal decisions and some even not that marginal against the team. And the technology available itself vindicating india's opposition to its use. Technology itself seems about fifty percent sure. So what is the point of using it if substantial doubts still remain about the decision.

Posted by The_Wog on (September 18, 2011, 6:41 GMT)

I agree with @Dashgar that (after the series, not in the middle of one as happens when the BCCI whinges about something) they could look at the consistency of moving the line to the outside of the stump, not the middle of the stump.

After all, this is the rectangle used to define "pitching in line" and contact for Hawkeye. Now we have half the ball used as the margin of doubt for impact but half the ball PLUS half the stump for hitting.

I don't agree that an "ump call" should restore the appeal - they get two appeals for CLEAR errors, and a ball clipping the outside of leg is not what UDRS is there for. But I do believe the appeal should be reinstated where the "ump call" is due to technology failure rather than measured tolerances. There is precedent from that match in Wellington played in a Cat 5 cyclone when no UDRS was possible due to camera movement. If the 3U believes that UDRS was "unavailable or unable to assist with forming an opinion" no appeal is debited.

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 6:26 GMT)

Another evidence of how much precise Aleem Dar's umpiring is. He can spot even the millimeters or within 2% of that imaginary line :P

Posted by Brumby90 on (September 18, 2011, 3:52 GMT)

We now need DRS for all decisions when playing sub continent teams as they have shown that they are not to be trusted when claiming catches etc.

Posted by aracer on (September 18, 2011, 3:25 GMT)

@cyniket - I get your point, but we can't trust it completely (I say that as an engineer who understands the physics involved), and decisions will always be better if a bit of judgement from the on-field umpire is involved. Meanwhile, whilst it might not be written down in the rule book, there's always been an implied benefit of the doubt given to the batsman. As for " it creates the potential injustice of two identical deliveries having different results, one team might get an lbw whilst the other team doesn't because the umpire happened to give one of them out." well that's nothing new either - DRS does make things better in that regard though.

Posted by aracer on (September 18, 2011, 3:20 GMT)

As an engineer who understands the physics behind Hawkeye, I trust the technology more than most. However it's not 100% accurate and I agree they've got it spot on - the point of DRS isn't to make the decisions, but to get rid of the howlers, at which it does a superb job. Arguably the edge of the stumps is a better line, but everybody knows what the rules are (or if not - MSD - they should). Where I do disagree is with the team getting the review back if it's umpire's call - if the decision is that close, that's the chance they take, and allowing multiple failed DRS appeals in this way could open the floodgates to lots more appealing to DRS.

Posted by TissaPerera on (September 18, 2011, 2:46 GMT)

The issue is that ball tracking lines shown are giving a wrong message to the Users showing it as a single line with same size as the ball. A SOLUTION to this is, to show the tracking line in a cone shape...... meaning after the impact, the imaginary line to be shown as a line increasing in diameter (in the shape of a cone) considering the margin of error. This will give user a real perspective and show the ball could have gone anywhere whining that line spreading wider and wider as it goes alone. Anyone?

Posted by Donkeyman on (September 18, 2011, 1:34 GMT)

DRS a fig-leaf for Aleem on this one. Surely the No.1 umpire in the world should be giving that out. Plumb.

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 0:10 GMT)

@yorkshirematt: No, the Aussies haven't brought this up. It was the commentators and several viewers who probably weren't aware of the playing conditions. I find it funny how anything to do with umpiring is linked to the Aussies. They have been a bit too quiet and well-behaved since 2007. Yes, you retained the Ashes with fantastic cricket but don't simply pick on another team for the sake of it!

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 0:06 GMT)

@Venkatesh Babu: No, they were not. The DRS works quite well when it's rules are enforced properly and with sense. If MSD fails to read the playing conditions or can't comprehend them, it's not the DRS's problem. Heck, the BCCI is the one who called for DRS to be brought in after whingeing about normal umpiring standards. Anyone smell hypocrisy?

Posted by   on (September 18, 2011, 0:01 GMT)

For the decisions for which technology decides umpire`s call; players must not be penalized with a review.

Posted by wittgenstein on (September 17, 2011, 23:51 GMT)

@yorkshirematt I am sure Tiflex can make balls that go arrow straight all day long as well. They are the world's leading cricket ball technologists. They must be under instructions to provide balls that make for even contests between bat and ball rather than have bowlers wait for batsmen to get bored and give their wickets away. See

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/532335.html

Posted by Nerk on (September 17, 2011, 23:35 GMT)

@200ondebut - I don't know about you're comment that computers are more accurate than humans. In most cases, the DRS has vindicated the umpires, and shown just how good they are. In cases where the decision is overturned, it has been a close call anyway. As for the question of benefit of the doubt, it should be with the umpires.

Posted by 200ondebut on (September 17, 2011, 21:26 GMT)

Nothing wrong with DRS - it is far more accrate than humans. The reason the line is there is because the whole basis of the system is that is must prove conclusively that a wrong decision has been made. So it is there to protect the umpires - who really need to get over their "issue" over not wanting to admit they sometimes get it wrong

Posted by paddman on (September 17, 2011, 20:21 GMT)

@ Colt1 - Tony Greig is a former English Test player, who was South African-born. How does this make him an 'out and out Aussie' ?

Posted by kabe_ag7 on (September 17, 2011, 20:00 GMT)

Tony Greig's age has caught up with him. He can't correctly call such an obvious DRS decision. And he is a commentator.

Posted by truguynese on (September 17, 2011, 19:43 GMT)

Cricket without the DRS system is still a game of millimetres as was quite rightly posted. With the DRS system, we have to accept that its just a tool that assists the umpires to give a decision based on their original call, if questioned. The rules are the way it is right now and it is for both teams, before DRS ,wrong decisions have been made, with DRS the degree of accuracy in a call is improved, so until the rules are changed,we accept the umpires decision as final.

Posted by colt1 on (September 17, 2011, 19:23 GMT)

Tony Greg is an out and out Aussie. He is biased. Sri Lankans listen to his comments. Especially his indirect comments on Mahela. We dont need him as our Sri lankan tourist guide.

Posted by zavahir on (September 17, 2011, 18:27 GMT)

iconoclastix - BCCI had some sense? If we do not use and try out new technology how on earth can it improve? yes, may be not perfect but it is for better decisions. It can only improve over a period of time. These are not things you can try out in a Lab. BCCI was defensive for different reasons as we all know.

Posted by 3rd_man on (September 17, 2011, 18:26 GMT)

Rules are there to make decisions correct. for me that decision correct for current rules. what we have to understand is this system is based on some parameters and assumptions to predict possible path of the ball. center line check of the ball & stump make sense as we cannot make the decision based on radius of the ball and radius of the stumps on graphics. its just a nice graphical presentation.when someone sees that DRS presentation think why that is not out because ball hitting the stumps.what we need to understand here is decision made by on field umpire give the first honer and system there for remove big mistakes made on the ground. I am sure Aleem dar didn't make his decision based on that millimeters of a margin as we saw on TV, but as he saw it that time. he may thought that completely miss the stumps. main thing for me , rules are clear, it apply for both teams, and it dose not matter decision based on millimeters or centimeters as long as withing the rules.

Posted by yorkshirematt on (September 17, 2011, 18:05 GMT)

@ohhhhMattyMatty. To be fair to Copeland he's never bowled with the Tiflex ball ; ) And why have the Aussies suddenly brought this up now? Every test match there seems to be one of these "umpire's call" DRS decisions. It's hardly something new.

Posted by   on (September 17, 2011, 17:59 GMT)

For once, BCCI was right?

Posted by iconoclastix on (September 17, 2011, 17:43 GMT)

The much maligned BCCI seems to have had some sense after all, for being defensive about the DRS!

Posted by demon_bowler on (September 17, 2011, 17:34 GMT)

"The review system is based on the tenet that the on-field umpire is correct unless comprehensively proven otherwise." Some people need to repeat this ten times with the hope that it sinks in.

Posted by mak102480 on (September 17, 2011, 17:30 GMT)

maybe india has got it right all along...the last 3 months have brought out so many DRS controversies - even involving HOT SPOT, widely considered the best of the technology.

Posted by cyniket on (September 17, 2011, 17:27 GMT)

they should just trust it completely. if the ball is hitting the stumps then it is out, the possibility of a margin of error doesn't mean that it makes any sense to set some arbitrary cut off (half the ball), that has no basis in the science. at the moment the system is skewed in favour of the batsman, if a batsman reviews one that is missing by half the width of the ball (your margin of error) he is reprieved, but if a bowler reviews one that is hitting the stumps by the same margin he gets nothing. furthermore, it creates the potential injustice of two identical deliveries having different results, one team might get an lbw whilst the other team doesn't because the umpire happened to give one of them out.

Posted by DamieninFrance on (September 17, 2011, 17:17 GMT)

Completely agree. There's been a lot of talk about 'benefit of the doubt' in DRS decisions. I've always believed that the Umpire must be convinced that the batsman is out. There's no 'benefit' as such, but conviction. Also agree with the idea of allowing referred decisions with 'Umpire's call', which don't eventually support the team calling for the review to be given back to that team. However, in that case, the number of reviews available would have to be reduced to wrong DRS call per innings. Otherwise, you'll end up with every close appeal being reviewed. I'd rather watch cricket being played!

Posted by ranga_s on (September 17, 2011, 17:09 GMT)

lets face it....SL or an Aussie..., that LBW was as out as it would get....but nevertheless, if DRS was not there on field umpire's call would have stayed and we all forget that as a mistake and move forward....Since DRS didn't make the amendment we are having this conversation...I think DRS is not at fault....it showed all the elements effectively to take a decision after reviewing....but the rules the ICC had made are rubbish enough to negate any upgrades offer to the on field umpire....If only 1/3rd of the ball hitting from the outside edge of the stump its ok to say the ball will miss....but i think in here it's rule book to be blamed...not the system.....to make things worse Australia lost a review too...that too at SSC when SL bat on day 2 and 3....hard luck...but Tony Grieg pu it absoulutely right..if u can't give that out at least give a break to the fielding team...they should not have been penalized on that...As a SL I do feel for Australians...They played this tour so well..

Posted by KBCA on (September 17, 2011, 16:54 GMT)

the line used to be the outside of the stump. i think the decision in this case was incorrect

Posted by   on (September 17, 2011, 16:36 GMT)

aus cant stop crying they think they are the best in the world but they are not anymore

Posted by kitten on (September 17, 2011, 16:29 GMT)

Well said, Brydon, I agree with all your comments, particularly, the one regarding the team keeping their review if the lbw is shown to be an 'umpire's call'. That makes sense, seeing it is such a marginal decision. But, one thing that should certainly be eradicated is third umpires making decisions with any justification, as happened in poor Dravid's case on two or more occasions. Nothing was detected on hotspot, and yet Dravid was sent on his way! The spectators and people like me watching on TV were absolutely confused, as were the commentators, except for the England team ofcourse. Even if there is any slight doubt, the decisions should automatically go in the batsman's favour as has been happening over the years. This unfortunately, didn't happen in Dravid's case. I hope the ICC take heed of this and all the other series in the world do not have to contend with ridiculous decisions in the future.

Posted by   on (September 17, 2011, 16:07 GMT)

I think the system is good. There will *always* be uncertainty, no matter how much you improve the frame rates or the accuracy of the ball tracking, and this system manages to deal with that, whilst keeping the on-field umpires in the game. And it is certainly superior to a comparable sport like big league baseball. But I think your second-last paragraph is spot-on, and would be a good tweak to the system. If the players appeal to the technology, and the technology replies "well, I don't know, I can't say yes or no", then why should they lose a review?

Posted by   on (September 17, 2011, 15:55 GMT)

You are absolutely right. There should always be a reference line and this is that. No one can have their own decisons, we should always be consistent. I think the way DRS is being implemented is ok. Even there is wrong with some decisons, that should be consistent. This article is really good one.

Posted by OhhhhMattyMatty on (September 17, 2011, 15:54 GMT)

Aussies whinging? There's a shock!

Copeland needs all the help he can get with taking wickets. He's not even as good as David Masters!

Posted by cricinfan on (September 17, 2011, 15:24 GMT)

Couldn't agree more. The rules on DRS are pretty clear, whether they are perfect or not. And we must play by the rules and not moan when a decision goes against you.

Posted by Dashgar on (September 17, 2011, 15:14 GMT)

The imaginary line should surely be on the outside of the stump, in order for the ball to be technically out the edge of the ball needs clip the edge of the stumps. In the case today the middle of the ball was hitting the stumps, which in real terms can mean the stump is completely uprooted. If that can be considered not out there is something wrong.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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