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Mark Nicholas

How DRS has changed batting, and keeps the balance

The review system has changed the game, especially for spinners, as the final day at Headingley showed

Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas
Brendon McCullum and Luke Ronchi appeal successfully for lbw against Alastair Cook, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 5th day, June 2, 2015

Well forward, but that's out: the game has changed with the DRS, as Alastair Cook knows only too well  •  Getty Images

It was clear that England were doomed when Alastair Cook was struck on the pad playing well forward and then lost the battle of the DRS. In the days before the great technological heist, Cook would have survived. Umpires respected the batsman's right to benefit from doubt, though the Laws have never suggested it should be so.
A big stride forward, the complex angles from the bowler's point of delivery to the point at which the batsman is trapped and the tiny margin that separates "in line" from "outside the line" have all conspired to work in favour of the lucky wielders of willow. Leather-flingers have long been put upon. Thus, when old pros grumble about big bats and short boundaries distorting averages, remind them of the Decision Review System which goes some way towards a correction of the history books, albeit artificially.
That predicted path of the ball! The more you think about it, the more you have to hand it to the Hawk-Eye team for sheer chutzpah. But it's better than guesswork. Ask the ICC about the percentages.
Shane Warne reckons he would have taken a thousand wickets with the DRS. Muttiah Muralitharan, too. Graeme Swann loved it. It's brilliant for the ball that doesn't turn - the top-spinner, the over-spinner, the slider, the zooter, the flipper, the carrom ball, or the one that just goes straight on, that's the one they now call a natural variation.
Both captains were on the wrong end of the DRS in the second innings of another fabulous Test match. Brendon McCullum played back to Mark Wood and was hit high on the pad by a ball bowled from wideish on the crease that zipped in at him off the seam. Before the heist, the umpire would have said it was "going down". Dickie Bird would have scoffed at an appeal. "Not from there lad, get in close to the stumps, bowl wicket to wicket lad." Unwritten rules sat alongside time-honoured Laws and the bloke with the bat got the best of them.
McCullum understandably reviewed the decision against him, Hawk-Eye showed the ball clipping the bails around leg-stump. Ye gods, thought Dickie, not in my day. In this day, it is the umpire who gets the benefit of any doubt. "Umpire's call" means the umpire is right, pretty much come what may. And at times this looks absurd, especially when the graphic shows the ball clattering into almost half a stump. But it is here to stay and, on balance, helps to even up the crucial divide between bat and ball.
Thus, Cook - and many others - had a rethink about playing spin, and the England captain proved in India a couple of years ago that he had it covered. Either you get outside the line of the stumps or you use your bat. Ideally the former against the ball that turns in to the bat and the latter against the ball that leaves it. What you absolutely cannot rely upon is getting well forward.
Against offspin you should be able to ride the spin and bounce, something Ian Bell and Joe Root demonstrably failed to do. Against the ball that turns away, you need your front pad alongside the ball and your knee flexible and rotating. Geoffrey Boycott was brilliant at this. In the late 1950s Peter May and Colin Cowdrey defied Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine in a historic stand worth 411 by leading mainly with their pads and frequently not offering a shot. OMG, imagine the fun those two little friends - Alf and Sonny - would have had with the DRS.
The only other way is to lead with your bat. Hit the damn ball, Sir Garfield Sobers would cry.
Or is it? No. There is another, better way still. Use your feet. Get to the pitch of the ball and in so doing, change the bowler's length. Not once during the entire final day did an England batsman other than Jos Buttler - and guess what, Buttler made 70-odd - come down the wicket to either Mark Craig or Kane Williamson.
With the greatest of respect to them both, we are not talking Erapalli Prasanna here. If you get to the ball's pitch, either to defend or attack, you change the game. Watch Michael Clarke or Steve Smith. Watch Virat Kohli or Murali Vijay. Watch AB de Villiers. The one thing a batsman must not do is let a spinner wheel away unchallenged. Rather perish than freeze. Unless you are Boycott, and who is?
Though Cook was certainly out - as certainly as the system can be - he was a tad unlucky to be struck just inside the line of off stump. He played a near perfect innings, masterful in its construction and craft. He is a defender, more Boycott than Clarke, and it takes all sorts to succeed at this most demanding game.
Thankfully Cook is back to his very best. We see the full face of the blade, rejoice at the slick use of his feet, and celebrate crisp ball-striking. Oh, and we don't see Kevin Pietersen, which lightens the Cook load the most. But had we seen KP, we would have seen adventure. Craig would never have got away with it, nor Williamson. Kev made a few bloopers but he would have taken those boys down with him.
McCullum's use of Williamson was riveting. A period without a wicket meant a call for Kane. Then, as soon as Kane got one, off he went to cover-point or some such place. Three times McCullum turned to him and three times, bingo. The specialist No. 3 batsman took three wickets for next to nothing. Against England he has 15 wickets out of a Test match total of 27 at an average of 16.
Perhaps he is Erapalli in disguise. But he isn't and that was the seriousness of England's demise. Williamson bowls flat-arm, non-turning offbreaks and snared a trifecta. The ball spins like a top on its vertical axis. It can only go straight on after it pitches. Batting is hard but not that hard. Somebody should have bunted this stuff into the confectionery stall and out again, as Richie Benaud once famously said at this ground.
Lastly, a few stats. At half-time the match was a tie. From there on in, New Zealand scored 454 runs in 91 overs. England were bowled out for 255 in 91 overs and five balls. Off those overs, Gary Ballance, Bell and Joe Root faced just 38 balls and made seven runs. The match was lost with just 19 overs and one ball remaining. Craig and Williamson claimed six between them. Enough said.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK