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How can women's cricket learn to use the DRS better?

With reviews infrequently used in bilaterals, poor use of the system in high-stakes events like the Women's T20 World Cup have cost teams dearly

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson
If Sri Lanka had a review to spare, they would have had match-winner Meg Lanning out in the eighth over  •  Getty Images

If Sri Lanka had a review to spare, they would have had match-winner Meg Lanning out in the eighth over  •  Getty Images

It's the eighth over of Sri Lanka's group-stage match against Australia at the T20 World Cup, and the visitors have the reigning champions well on the back foot at 30 for 3. Suddenly, Meg Lanning swipes at a wide one outside off stump and edges the ball to the keeper. As one, the Sri Lankans go up: they know they have their woman.
Sadly, the umpire doesn't agree. Even worse, Sri Lanka have already burned through their one DRS review, having made the baffling decision to try and overturn a not-out call for caught behind four overs earlier, also against Lanning, with replays showing that her bat had hit the gloves of the wicketkeeper, not the ball.
Lanning goes on to score an unbeaten 41 not out; Australia win the game by five wickets, with just three balls remaining. Not for the first time, poor use of the DRS has quite possibly cost a team a memorable win.
Within men's cricket, DRS has been a fixture for over a decade, since it was officially introduced in Tests in November 2009. Its adoption has been much slower in the women's game. The ICC requires both ball-tracking and a sound-based edge detection system (like UltraEdge) to be in place if DRS is to be used. That isn't cheap, coming in at a price tag of more than US$13,000 per match. When the system was first used in women's cricket during the 2017 World Cup in England, it was only put in place for the ten games that were broadcast: the teams contesting the 21 remaining matches went without.
Only recently has the ICC been prepared to spend its cash on adopting it wholesale at standalone women's tournaments: it was in use for every match of the 2018 Women's T20 World Cup in the Caribbean, reflecting the fact that all 23 games were broadcast live; and it is once again available in every match of this current World Cup.
That should be a good thing, right? DRS is, at its heart, about overturning bad umpiring decisions and thus making match results fairer. It also (in theory) levels the playing field with the men's game: if review technology is available in men's cricket, basic equality says it should also be available for the women's game.
The majority of teams only ever get the chance to use the system every two years, during World Cups; Thailand, playing in their first world tournament, have never had access to it before
The stats suggest that women's teams have overall used DRS reasonably well during this tournament. Across 20 group-stage matches, the DRS success rate stands at 44%: of 32 reviews, 14 have been successful, while 18 have seen the original on-field decision upheld. That doesn't compare too badly with the men's game: in the men's World Cup last year there were 34 successful reviews out of 93 called for - a 36.5% success rate.
Unfortunately, as ever, it is the reviews that go wrong that are remembered, over and above the times when sides have correctly chosen to use the system. With the eyes of the world on the women's game, the use of DRS so far this tournament has generated a lot of comment, much of it negative. During India's opening match against Australia, one fan on Twitter described India's decision to review an lbw call against Beth Mooney that had pitched well outside leg stump as the worst use of DRS he had ever seen.
Noticeably, teams have often appeared to have poor decision-making processes in place. For example, South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk, given out lbw to Pakistan's Diana Baig, chose to review instantly but then began walking off the pitch, seemingly convinced she was actually out (in fact, ball-tracking eventually granted her a reprieve). Failing to review where they should have has also cost teams big: the most infamous example came in West Indies' group-stage match against Pakistan, when Hayley Matthews was given out lbw first ball, once again to Baig. By the time Matthews decided to query the decision, it was too late: the available 15 seconds had expired. Had she made up her mind a bit quicker, the on-field decision would have been overturned, and West Indies might have avoided an embarrassing defeat.
When West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor was asked if there had been processes put in place back home for her side to practice use of DRS in world tournaments, she said: "No, none."
West Indies are not alone. England lays claim to one of the best-resourced set-ups in the women's game, yet an ECB spokesperson confirmed that they have no facilities in place to allow them to practise the use of the DRS. Their preparation for the tournament has relied on the team watching videos of previous dismissals.
The pertinent fact here is that the DRS is not currently in regular use in women's bilateral cricket. Though New Zealand have utilised it on occasion - notably in their ODI series against India in January 2019 - the majority of teams only ever get the chance to do so every two years, during World Cups. Thailand, playing in their first world tournament, have never had access to it before. And outside of real-time match situations, it is extremely difficult to "rehearse" use of DRS in the same way you can practise other aspects of your game.
Within the men's game, DRS was not introduced at a World Cup until 2015, at a point when it had already been tried and tested by the majority of participating nations in bilateral series, with (generally) much less at stake. To thrust sides into using it only when the eyes of the world are upon them, at just the point when a spot in a global semi-final or final might be at stake, seems rather topsy-turvy. (There is a similar issue for qualifying men's Associate sides, who often enter World Cups having never used the DRS before.)
The ECB says that it is hopeful that future women's bilateral series held in England will feature the DRS, a decision made after intense criticism surrounding some of the umpiring decisions during the 2019 Women's Ashes series - notably a horrendous lbw call that went against Fran Wilson in the first ODI. However, its use in other countries is likely to remain uneven. The ICC states that it has no plans to make the DRS compulsory in future bilateral series: "Until it's used a little bit more widely, it will remain optional, like it is for men's bilateral ODIs or T20Is," says Geoff Allardice, the ICC's general manager of cricket. "It's up to each board. They can use it - it just comes down to the level of coverage that they mount for the women's matches." Host boards, meanwhile, are likely to argue that the associated costs would be prohibitive.
The issues we have seen in this tournament with the use of the DRS, then, are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Can anything be done? One possible solution might be to have two DRS reviews per side per innings available in women's tournaments, instead of one. This would give teams that have little practice at using the system outside of World Cups another chance, should things go awry early in the match.
It might be argued that this would only serve to create another point of difference with men's cricket, but in the case of DRS - with so many more opportunities to practice its use available for men than women - levelling the playing field isn't always as straightforward as simply making the playing regulations the same. Until the DRS is available more widely to women's teams outside of world tournaments, an extra review could provide a temporary solution to the eternal cricketing dilemma of how to ensure that as many correct umpiring decisions are made as possible.

Raf Nicholson is a writer on and historian of women's cricket. @RafNicholson