India had a horrible Test in Pune. They bowled badly, they batted badly, and they fielded badly. They also challenged the umpires badly.
They tried seven reviews of which only one was successful: when Ravindra Jadeja the batsman clearly knew he hadn't hit the ball. The other six reviews were used up fast: within 39 overs in the first innings, 36.2 overs in the third, and 5.3 overs in the final innings. Three of these reviews were pure wishful thinking, twice against the best batsman in the opposition Steven Smith and once against Mitchell Marsh. They were so far off that they didn't even return an umpire's call; even the flawed you-shouldn't-lose-reviews-on-umpire's-call argument doesn't apply with these. Two other reviews were wasted by India's openers going against reason on the third day.
As a result, India could only watch when Smith could have been lbw on 73. The umpire felt the ball had hit the bat first, India were rightly adamant it made first impact with the pad, but they didn't have any reviews left because of the gambles earlier. Smith went on to score a hundred. In the fourth innings, Wriddhiman Saha and Jayant Yadav could have done with the reviews had M Vijay and KL Rahul been economical with them.
There can be two ways of looking at India's shambolic use of DRS. The first and more popular one is that India were those babies that get hold of a toy and get fascinated by it without really knowing how to use it. It shows in how India have used 54 reviews in their seven Tests with DRS - let's forget the hugely flawed UDRS that India played with in 2008 - and have got only 16 right. Their opponents in this series Australia, for example, have challenged the umpires only 32 times for 11 changed decisions.
The other possibility is the dip in India's performance in other aspects in this Test was proportional to their dip in DRS. After all they had out-reviewed England in their first series with DRS. India's coach Anil Kumble sits in the second category. "We keep talking about it, and I don't think we messed it up," he said. "If you looked at the two series since it was introduced, we did better than the opposition, both against England and against Bangladesh. It's too early to talk about that. You can always have hindsight. I don't see a reason why we need to worry too much."
If India's use of their reviews is to be compared with other sides over their last seven Tests, they do come across as impulsive. The man in charge of most of these calls is an ambitious captain who is unlikely to die wondering in perhaps any pursuit in life. Virat Kohli has teed up 41 times in the field in seven Tests. No other side has asked for even 30 reviews in its last seven Tests. A striking statistic here is that of these 41 shouts, only 15 have been close: eight have been overturned with six others returning umpire's call. In 63% of his reviews in the field, Kohli doesn't even come close. Nineteen of his 31 lbw reviews have failed to return even an umpire's call.
Kohli's success rate of 22%, though, is not the worst. New Zealand and West Indies have been poorer. For the purpose of this comparison, no special allowance has been made for the frivolous reviews made just before the 80th over - when challenges get reset - or those made by the last two wickets just because they are there. It has been assumed all sides indulge in it, and it gets evened out over time.
Reviews when India are batting present another story. Despite the shockers from Vijay and Rahul, they have been best at using the DRS in the last seven Tests, getting more than half of the out calls overturned. Only Pakistan come close to India's 53.8% with exactly half of their batting reviews being successful.
Also India's last seven Tests are their first seven with DRS (discounting 2008, again). So it is slightly unfair to measure their use of reviews against other sides' last seven Tests. In their first seven Tests, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, England and Australia made much better use of DRS than India, who have a success rate of 28.3%. Impulsive and more sentimental sides like Bangladesh and Pakistan had fared worse.
Once again, India and Pakistan, with 53 and 49 challenges, have questioned the umpires more often than other teams. Ajinkya Rahane, who is usually in key positions, tends to share Kohli's optimism. There was once a hilarious sight when Kohli obliged Jadeja the bowler with a review, and then admonished him with a little swear word thrown in when he saw the original decision had stayed.
A slight adjustment needs to be made for the fact that not all sides played their first few Tests with the stipulation that reviews were reset after 80 overs, which can to an extent explain some of the caution that was exercised.
The numbers say that contrary to popular perception, India with DRS are neither as bad as Pune showed them to be nor as good as they were in the England series. Once Jayant Yadav got his appeal for lbw upheld on review even though Moeen Ali had advanced down the pitch. So just as a batting unit is neither as bad as an almighty collapse shows them to be nor as good as when all their batsmen are on a roll, India with DRS are somewhere in between. They are not the worst, but there is definite room for improvement.
There is a case for setting up internal protocols. The non-striker has to be more involved. During the England series, Joe Root tried to stand as close to the umpire as he could to help his partner in DRS situations whereas Vijay once stood looking away when Cheteshwar Pujara was given out wrongly. The non-striker has to be dispassionate in these discussions, and not a sympathetic mate. Rahul should never have allowed his partner Vijay to waste his review in Pune. The ball from Steve O'Keefe had pitched on off, straightened just a touch, clearly missed the bat, and it was highly unlikely to miss the stumps altogether.
Vijay was candid enough to own up to it. "At the moment, it's not going our way," he said two days before the Bengaluru Test. "We've got to take a little more time, I guess. We've got to use those 15 seconds much better. We've spoken about it."
Much like umpiring, using DRS is not an exact science. You go into a match telling yourself you are not going to waste it on a hunch, that you are not going to guess, that you are going to ask for it only when you are sure the decision is a howler. You follow your protocols to discuss with the wicketkeeper or the non-striker. And then one day, you are desperate, or you just feel like gambling against the best batsman in the opposition, and you end up being successful. It's then that you mess up with your processes. And India do have processes.
"At the end of each Test, we do have a discussion," R Sridhar, India's fielding coach said in December. "We look at all the decisions that were reviewed, and sit with the bowlers. Have a look at it. When the umpire gives not out, we look at what's the umpire's call and why it was turned down and what are the reasons we should take the DRS. That's an ongoing learning process. And bowlers always feel he has got the batsman. So there are people like Virat and Ajinkya, now Parthiv [Patel] or Wridhiman [Saha] behind the stumps, who kind of give the correct judgement. It's a team call. Kohli does take the call depending upon feedback given by the key members, who are placed in the key positions."
India have come a long way from the 2011 World Cup when it seemed one review was reserved for Virender Sehwag. In the semi-final and in the final of that tournament, he wasted reviews upon early dismissals, and did so without checking with his non-striker. It is perhaps such an initial approach and their subsequent resistance of DRS that makes India appear to be worse than they are when they fail. Yet they can't look away from two clear areas of improvement: Kohli's impulsiveness and certain batsmen's absentmindedness.