Akhila Ranganna is assistant editor (Audio) at Cricinfo
The ICC is planning a meeting with television broadcasters in March to sort out problems arising from the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). Speaking on Cricinfo's Time Out with Harsha Bhogle show, Dave Richardson, ICC's general manager, said the system - which he said has reduced errors in decision-making since its implementation - would improve with standardisation of technology, and the meeting would discuss the cost implications in this for the member boards and broadcasters.
"The only way for us to successfully standardise the technology specifications and develop protocols is first of all to discuss and determine them," Richardson said. "The first step will be to get together with the broadcasters and the technology suppliers and come up with a more refined set of specifications. And [then] to implement those protocols and practice them.
"The overall consensus across the board, whether from umpires or players or the media, is that the UDRS has worked well; that we should continue to implement it but we should look at ways of improving the technology, refining the technology and certainly as far as possible standardise the technology across all series."
One serious issue is inadequate equipment - there are currently four Hot Spot cameras available worldwide and the technology has not been used in all Test series since the UDRS was made mandatory last October. Richardson admits to the problem but says having less equipment is better than none - at least some errors will still be caught this way.
However, the main hurdle on the way ahead is the cost involved in getting the system up to scratch. Richardson conceded that things were difficult "with existing agreements in place between members and broadcasters" when the system was implemented but disagreed with suggestions that the ICC should take on the cost burden to implement the technology. "When someone says the ICC must pay, in effect what we are asking is for the members to pay. Now some will argue, why should members like Afghanistan, Ireland, Holland - or even some of the other full members who do not have as many Tests - be paying the costs for Tests put on in some other full-member country?"
The misgivings surrounding the UDRS reached a flashpoint during the recent fourth Test between South Africa and England in Johannesburg with umpire Daryl Harper at the centre of controversy. When Graeme Smith, on 15, cut Ryan Sidebottom, England went up for the top-edge. However, Tony Hill, the on-field umpire, turned down the appeal and Andrew Strauss asked for a review. There was no noticeable deflection on the replays so the noise from the stump microphone would have to be the decisive evidence. Harper said he couldn't hear anything and upheld Hill's verdict.
The problem, as David Lloyd, the former England coach, explained on Time Out, was a multiplicity of broadcasters. "The [host] broadcaster, SABC, had a technical glitch in their sound department at that time so the director and the two commentators didn't hear the nick either," said Lloyd, who was on the commentary panel for that series. "So the information fed to Harper meant that he didn't hear the nick, but on Supersport and Sky [who were also broadcasting the game], with different technicians, everybody heard the nick. So there is a real problem there for the ICC and the review system to ensure the broadcasting body has got the right people and the right equipment to hear the nick. Harper was also looking at a totally inadequate monitor. He has got to have the best monitor available."
"[That] was a very good example of how complicated this can all get," Richardson conceded. "Obviously if we had that series again we would make sure that the same levels or specifications that the host broadcaster was using was also being used by the other broadcasters so that there was no room for different feed going out to different people."
One of the key reasons behind the introduction of the UDRS was to reduce the scrutiny on the umpires but the Johannesburg Test showed that the results can sometimes be the opposite. "Obviously the DRS system is going to involve much more scrutiny on the third umpire himself and the role of the third umpire is crucial to the success of the system," said Richardson. "But we are hoping that once everyone gets used to the DRS being used it will be used like it is in tennis. In so doing actually, the end result will be that the umpires won't be blamed necessarily for causing series to be lost or players' careers to be ended and everyone will just accept that the best decision was reached in a majority of the cases."
There is a view that the UDRS should have been trialled at the first-class level before it was introduced at the Test level but Richardson disagreed. "The problem with that is purely a practical one. First, there is very little first-class cricket that is televised. Secondly, if it is even televised, the technology that is available at those matches is very scant. Thirdly, what is needed is for players to get better understanding of when to use the system and when not to. The umpires also need to get practice at implementing the various protocols. I don't think we would have made any progress had we initially trialled it at first-class level."
In the 13 Tests the UDRS had been used in since October 2009, the correct decision percentage had gone up from 91.3% (had the UDRS not been used) to 97.4%. But Richardson conceded that "when it comes to decisions involving thin edges, more often than not in fact, the TV technology that is available does not always help on every occasion".
The answer, he reiterated, is standardisation. "Unless we are able to improve and refine the specifications it may well be that in the end we think this is too complicated and we leave it to the on-field umpires. But I think we have already learnt enough to see that the percentage of decision-making can be improved using the DRS and, yes, it is not going to be perfect 100% of the time, so if we can get correct 97% of the time then it is all worthwhile."