England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 1st day

DRS breaking spirits of players and fans

Without the DRS, Usman Khawaja would still have been out, the decision accepted as on-field mistake, but getting it wrong with the assistance of replays cannot be tolerated.

Brydon Coverdale at Old Trafford

August 1, 2013

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Usman Khawaja had to depart when the TV umpire could not find conclusive evidence to overturn a caught behind, England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 1st day, August 1, 2013
Usman Khawaja was less-than-pleased with the DRS verdict of his dismissal © Getty Images

In the third umpire's room at Old Trafford, Kumar Dharmasena got it wrong on Usman Khawaja's dismissal. In a van in the car park, Nigel Llong might have got it right. Llong is the unofficial official at the Manchester Test, trialling a new system that puts replays at his fingertips. While Dharmasena asked Sky Sports producers to cue up video and audio, Llong was sequestered away from the action with a wall of replay screens at his immediate disposal.

If he wanted a side-on view, he could have it. If he wanted a rear angle, he could play that himself. Dharmasena's deliberation took aeons; with quick judgement, Llong's process might have been much shorter, though his decisions carried no weight. "Might" is the key caveat. He might have been quicker, he might have overturned Tony Hill's decision. He might have had audio that synched with a view that showed Khawaja's bat brushing his back leg.

Or he might not. More replays will help with some reviews, but the real answer to the ongoing DRS debacles is better interpretation of what the third umpire already has. Dharmasena saw what every television viewer watching the match around the world saw: nothing on Hot Spot, no apparent deviation. A noise, yes, but isolating the source of sounds is maddeningly difficult.

Hot Spot is not infallible, of course. It can detect edges but not misses, and very faint tickles can fail to show up. The DRS has a built-in benefit of the doubt that goes not to the batsman but to the on-field call. But the combination of absent factors should have led Dharmasena to be guided by the raw vision, which seemed to suggest the ball passed Khawaja's bat untouched. It is possible to see how Dharmasena reached his conclusion, but impossible to accept that this is the best cricket can offer.

It's not the first time, either. At Trent Bridge, Marais Erasmus overturned a not-out lbw decision against Jonathan Trott despite the raw vision seeming to show an inside edge. These mistakes are not the fault of technology but of the men using it. The ICC knows the DRS is leaving players, viewers and administrators bewildered. Cricket Australia even went so far as to seek an explanation from the ICC for Khawaja's dismissal.

So what is the answer? Handing the DRS over exclusively to the umpires might seem like a good idea but it creates a whole new set of issues. Just look at how many obviously legal deliveries Dharmasena asked to be checked in the first two Tests to see if the bowler had overstepped. Imagine if he had the ability to ask the third umpire for help on lbws and edges. There would be more reviews than in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide.

Umpiring flashpoints

  • Ashton Agar, Trent Bridge: Agar, a 19-year-old debutant, appeared stumped on 6 but third umpire Marais Erasmus ruled in his favour and he went on to make 98 - the highest score by a Test match No 11.
  • Jonathan Trott, Trent Bridge: Trott's second innings golden duck was fraught with controversy. He was given not out by on-field umpire Aleem Dar, but Erasmus, the third umpire, adjudged him lbw even though HotSpot was unavailable because of operational error.
  • Stuart Broad, Trent Bridge: Broad stood his ground after a thick edge against the left-arm spinner, Agar, went off the keeper's gloves to Michael Clarke at slip only for Dar to rule not out. As Australia had used up all their reviews, they had to suffer it.
  • Ian Bell, Lord's: Bell was on 3 when Steven Smith claimed a low catch at gully. The on-field umpires passed the decision onto third umpire Tony Hill and because of the foreshortening caused by a long lens, he controversially ruled in the batsman's favour.
  • Usman Khawaja, Old Trafford: Khawaja reviewed when he was given out for a single by Hill, the on-field umpire, caught behind off Swann. DRS revealed nothing to justify Hill's decision, yet the third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, deemed the evidence "inconclusive".
  • Steven Smith, Old Trafford: Having survived two England reviews, Smith was plumb lbw on 24 to Broad only for Hill to rule not out. Now it was England's turn to be frustrated, having used both their reviews.

Giving the third umpire carte blanche to step in if he has seen a clear error is also unworkable. That was demonstrated when Cricket Australia trialled such a system during last year's Ryobi Cup. Not only was the overturning of decisions inconsistent but it led to actions from players that, according to the Queensland wicketkeeper Chris Hartley, bordered on dissent.

"Umpires are placed under undue pressure by players who try to persuade them to have a second look," Hartley wrote during the season. "The issue here is obvious. At present, the third umpire is coaxed into reviewing a decision by the players' reaction. Players, as they always have and always will, use gamesmanship. But what is happening at the moment is a case of players hanging around after being dismissed, which is technically bordering on dissent."

Test cricket doesn't need that. Perhaps there is another answer. Pilots fly planes. Air-traffic controllers use technology to help them. Pilots and air-traffic controllers are not interchangeable. Khawaja knows this, for he is a qualified pilot. If his cricket career fails he might fly the Brisbane to Melbourne route one day, but he won't sit in the tower interpreting blips on radar the next.

As Khawaja trudged off on the first afternoon at Old Trafford, shaking his head with disbelief, he probably wasn't thinking of planes or flight paths. But he might have had screens and technology on his mind. He might have been wondering at what kind of garbled radio communication brought his downfall. Of course, TV umpires and on-field officials do not hold people's lives in their hands. But the principle is the same: different jobs using different tools require different experts.

Over the past three weeks, Dharmasena has stood in the middle of a buzzing Trent Bridge and Lord's for nine days, concentrating on 4,471 deliveries. That means inspecting the crease for no-balls, listening for edges, watching for deviation, judging lbw trajectories, counting deliveries. It means doing all of these things in real time and in person. As the third umpire, he is now relying not on his view but that of a camera, and his interpretation of technology.

Training and employing a whole new species of match official, the specialist TV umpire, is an option the ICC must strongly consider. They would be men who do not stand in the middle but understand the technology and its limitations, and can use it to help the on-field umpires. If that doesn't work, there's always Nigel Llong in a van. Perhaps the system he is trialling will improve the DRS.

Of course, scrapping the DRS entirely would also work. There can no longer be any concern about umpires looking silly when they make a mistake that is shown on TV to be incorrect. Even with the assistance of technology they are looking foolish.

More importantly, while the DRS might not be broken, its implementation is breaking the spirits of players and fans. Without the DRS, Khawaja would still have been out, caught Prior bowled Swann. Everyone would have accepted it as an on-field mistake, one of those errors that umpires have made for 135 years. But getting it wrong with the assistance of replays cannot be tolerated.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (August 2, 2013, 16:03 GMT)

DRS is not something new to cricket we are use similar technique to make decision in run out calls. That worked perfectly why not here. Now is the time to train new breed of 3rd umpires in DRS to use it wisely to give decisions.

Posted by   on (August 2, 2013, 13:55 GMT)

I dont think there is anything wrong with technology. Technology is wires and instruments aimed at giving assistance in reaching towards the most accurate decision. Its how that technology is used that should questioned. With the evidence that Kumar dharmasena had at his disposal it was clearly not out and the decision should have been overturned as their was no nick on hot spot and the ball was miles away from Khwaja's bat. How can you persist with the onfield umpire's decision after such clear evidence is mesmerising.

Posted by   on (August 2, 2013, 13:49 GMT)

the simplest solution is to change the concept of review of umpire's call to 3rd umpire decision! just like run outs n stump outs, the 3rd umpire should solely see the evidence n take calll himself & not review the original decison n sendit back to the onfield umpire. it should be a fresh decision without onfield consultations!

Posted by parthaacs on (August 2, 2013, 13:26 GMT)

what is the point of spending millions and still getting the decisions wrong? I would rather save those millions and take the odd bad decisions. Those millions can be spent on improving the infrastructure and giving cheaper tickets to fans to encourage more of them to the grounds

Posted by   on (August 2, 2013, 13:26 GMT)

its not the technology, it is to eliminate human error... these are the people who are operating it, they are to be blamed.

Posted by naudurivsm on (August 2, 2013, 13:06 GMT)

BCCI and Indians in general have reservations against technology that is not full proof. Why spend money on technology that does not provide the results when we want it.

But in Khwajs case it is neither the technology nor DRS fault It is purely third umpire's fault. They should know what should be the judgement when their detailed review is in-conclusive. But Mr. Dharmasena went off the way in suggesting the on-field umpire that the batsman was out.

I am sure the information that the review was in-conclusive or there was no evidence that there was a knick WAS NOT conveyed to on-field umpires and they happily up-held there original decision.

In this case at least the UMPIRES messed it up. The Blame should be on both On-field and Third Umpires. SAD DAY for Cricket.

Posted by Sigismund on (August 2, 2013, 12:49 GMT)

Further to my earlier comment, Hawkeye seems to have caused almost everyone to completely misunderstand the LBW law. LBW only exists as a mode of dismissal to prevent a stalemate situation, where the batsman could simply stand in front of his stumps. There are fair and unfair ways of using your legs to defend your stumps. A batsman who is thoroughly beaten by the bowler, and would undoubtedly have lost his wicket had his body not got in the way, should be dismissed on appeal by the umpire. Similarly, the pitched-outside-leg condidtion exists to prevent a game-stifling line of attack by bowlers. It was never intended to be a technicality; if projections show that the ball would have clipped the bails or the outside edge of leg stump, then it is NOT a mistake by the umpire to have ruled not out. In fact, to have ruled the batsman out would have been a brave decision, perhaps even a poor one. Again, if everyone realised this misconception about the laws, the whole debate would disappear.

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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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