Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Review System and Elimination of Error

The purpose of the new review system being tested during the India v Sri Lanka series is to eliminate obvious errors. This is what the ICC tells followers of the sport. Yet, the major issue that the ICC seems to grapple with, is not the errors themselves, but the consequences of errors. Everything in the design of the review system suggests that the ICC is more interested in appearing to be fair, than it is in being correct. The involvement of the players in the system is a telltale give away. There is nothing that the players can do to eliminate obvious errors, that the Umpires cannot achieve without their help.

Here, it also appears that the ICC is grappling with some faux issues related to tradition, and the authority of the Umpires. Cricket governing body seems to be more willing to have the players question the authority of the umpires, than it is to have the third umpire question the authority of the Umpires. The use of technology is a completely seperate issue. The slippery slope that the ICC is currently negotiating (quite tentatively), is the issue of the adjudicators authority.

The first ever review in a Test Match was requested by Anil Kumble at 11.18 am this morning when an LBW appeal by the Indians against Malinda Warnapura. Umpire Mark Benson's not out decision was reviewed by the third Umpire Rudi Koertzen. Cricket fans who are familiar with the LBW law will realise the absurdity of this. The Umpire at the bowlers end is in the best possible position to judge LBW's. He has the best view (obviously not by accident). The fielding captain is able to request a review for LBW decisions - but he is not allowed to consult any body with a television. So he has no real information to go on when he requests a review of the LBW - other than the bowler and the wicketkeeper and the close in fielders, none of whom have a good view of the LBW. When bowlers and fielders appeal for LBW's, they appeal based on instinct - but umpiring decisions are made based on information.

Then there is the issue of the no-ball being checked by the third umpire when the review is made. Dismissals which occur off deliveries which are ruled as no-balls are not checked! If the third umpire were allowed to review decisions without prompting from either the batsman or the fielding captain, he would have identified that Mark Benson ruling a no-ball on a delivery where Zaheer Khan had Warnapura caught and bowled was wrong.

In all this, the basic purpose of the review system - to eliminate obvious errors is not satisfied. It is not satisfied because the ICC and the Umpires are timid - by relinquishing authority to the players, they are essentially saying - "you keep complaining that we're not competent, here.... why don't you help us out by taking on some of the responsibility". This in my view amounts to umpires shooting themselves in the foot. Under the garb of preserving the tradition the ICC are not using the third umpire as well as he could be used.

The TV Broadcasters are obviously pleased with the referral idea, especially the part where the players request a review, because it creates a new spectacle for commentators to talk about on air. It creates unnecessary pressure on everybody concerned, and doesn't serve the purpose that it is supposed to. In years gone by, commentators used to express a certain amount of disgust with third-slip or mid-wicket appealing for LBW's, because they couldn't possible know what the line and length of the ball was. Now, the ICC has granted that same third-slip or midwicket the right to question the Umpires decision.

Readers may feel im jumping the gun here. The obvious reaction here might be that i should give the referral system some time before criticizing it. But the criticisms raised here are structural and these issues should have been considered while the system was being designed. What the ICC's system lacks is a clear philosophical basis - an understanding of the role of the umpires and that of the players and the relationship between the two. What has resulted thus is a muddled, timid adhocism. Im quite amazed that this referral system got to the stage where it could be tried out in its current form.

Cricket cannot afford to have players and umpires as adversaries. The referral system directly undermines the Umpires, and does so in the worst possible way. It ought to be scrapped immediately and if it is to be replaced at all, it should be replaced with a simple system where the third umpire is instructed to be in constant communication with the on-field umpires whenever an appeal is made by the fielding side and a decision is made by the on-field umpires.

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