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Samir Chopra

The theatre of the DRS

The relief at the howler overturned; the vindication of the accurate umpire - the dramas of the review system are many, and many of them are entertaining

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
The DRS: a challenge to the umpire's once-supreme authority  •  Getty Images

The DRS: a challenge to the umpire's once-supreme authority  •  Getty Images

The cricket field is a stage for theatre, its players actors in dramas of their own - and others' - making. That much fans can agree on. They can agree, too, that as the game changes, the nature of the drama enacted in front of our eyes does too.
When cameras were introduced to aid in the adjudication of line decisions, a new theatricality emerged: the umpire's call for a replay, the anxious turn to the replay screen, the red or green light signalling disaster or triumph, the roars and groans that greeted that final missive. (Incidentally, shouldn't it have been green for "go" and red for "stay"? I remain mystified by the colour coding.) These reactions, these stagings, are now part of our understanding of the modern game.
And now, with the introduction of the DRS, we have new dramas afoot. I want to concentrate here on the reactions of a few of the central players - the batsmen and the umpires - to the now modified staging of that most dreaded of cricketing moments, the fielding side's appeal and the umpire's decision. And in particular on two pairs of related, visible responses: the vindicated batsman and umpire, and the mortified batsman and umpire.
In the old days, all a batsman could do was walk off, or not, sometimes grimly reconciled to his fate, sometimes raging against the dying light. And the umpire was left to wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake or not, one perhaps to be confirmed later, in his hotel room, by that day's television highlights.
Questioning an umpire's decision is always a rather undignified business. It is especially so when a marginal decision is contested by a batsman, hoping the luck will go his way. He does not know he is not out; he merely hopes so. Some of the reactions of batsmen to this moment of referral come dangerously close to those of young children who have been told they cannot bat anymore; they are ready to stomp their feet and hold their breath and perhaps turn some colour matching their uniforms. (The seemingly endless vacillation at this stage, about whether a review should even be asked for, is an irritating reminder that we are witnessing an acute misuse of the DRS.)
When the reversal of the decision comes, the umpire sheepishly makes the appropriate signal. It is a small wonder that a little sponsor's mascot does not run out with a dunce's cap to be placed upon his head
As for the umpire, the once-final authority has been told his word is no longer so, that his decision is to be contested, that he is to be placed in the position of being superseded, humiliatingly enough on live television, by a cyborgian combination of technology and fellow umpire. They, with the aid of a not flawless apparatus of infra-red cameras, Snickometers, microphones, and multiple slow-motion replays, will now stand in pompous judgement on his decision, one taken in real-time, surrounded by loud, red-faced fielders and a not always silent crowd.
When the reversal of the decision comes, the umpire sheepishly makes the appropriate signal. It is a small wonder that a little sponsor's mascot does not run out with a dunce's cap - a yellow jersey in reverse? - to be placed upon his head, one only to be removed when he gets the next decision correct. That is all that is missing in this little ritual of public second-guessing. Conversely, we should be thankful that vindicated umpires, who have received the news that their original decision was correct, do not smirk more, and utter a loud "I told you so, you whiners!" as they give the batsman the finger again. There is little doubt that some version of this monologue flickers through their minds, a muttering to the effect of: "Thought I wasn't good enough for you, eh? Well, I showed ya, didn't I? Didn't I? Go ahead, make my day; review another decision."
And then there are the batsmen. One class of these, having edged the ball and not been given out, and having declined to walk, hang around, hoping that their "playing hard but fair" will not be detected in the course of the review requested by the confident fielding side. They hum ditties, they exchange notes with their batting mates, they gaze off into the distance, resembling schoolboys hoping against hope for a reprieve from their schoolmasters, all the while fervently wishing their elaborate displays of insouciance will be factored into the experimental data of the decision review process. When the negative decision comes, some even feign surprise: "Really? That's out? Ah, well, I guess I'll have to head back then." Yet others, mortified, gaze instead at the ground under their feet, as they march back to the pavilion, fiddling with their equipment - cricketing, I mean - on the way.
Yet another class of batsmen, of course, is saved from the hangman's noose in all the right ways. His review call has turned out to be the correct one. The desperate hoper comes dangerously close to giggling, but rather more righteous is the man who knew he was not out all along. His is not the smile of relief; rather, it is that of the man convinced of his cricketing rectitude. He stands vindicated, and with the graceful air of the upstanding, he returns to his labours with a weary smile, glad, once again, to get back to the business of making runs.
I have to admit I quite enjoy the spectacle of the umpire proven correct, as do I those of the not-walking batsman sent packing and the "rescued howler victim". Of considerably less amusement is the sight of batsmen hoping to not be given out, hoping to overturn a marginal decision. Matters could be considerably improved if the number of reviews was reduced to one per innings: ask for a review only when you know the umpire is wrong, not when you believe he is. Of course, in a spectacular demonstration of their desire to keep matters as muddled as possible, the powers that be have chosen to disregard this simple epistemic constraint and have even increased the number of possible reviews.
Onwards with the second-guessing and continued fuming at umpires, and the tolerance of the precious behaviour of disappointed batsmen.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch