Thursday, July 21, 2011

DRS and Dissent: From the Ashes to the Pataudi Trophy

One of the least discussed aspects of the Decision Review System is the way in which it changes the relationship between players and umpires. During the 2010-11 Ashes, Ricky Ponting was fined after he vigorously disputed the outcome of a review involving Kevin Pietersen. At the time, I was cautious about the Match Referee's decision even though he went by the book.
"While he deserved his fine going by the pre-UDRS era Code of Conduct, it is a bit rich for the ICC to demand good behavior (and define it now as though nothing has changed post-UDRS) after giving in to Ponting-style behavior and allowing players to question umpiring decisions in the first place. If players can ask for reviews, and then look at the same evidence that the Umpire can, then, if the Umpire decides to reverse a marginal call, players are well within their rights to feel aggrieved. If it is the point of the referral to provide teams with an assurance that obvious errors will not stand, then is it not a problem when marginal decisions are overturned sometimes, but not at other times? As a stakeholder in the decision making process, a Captain's protest in such an event has to be seen differently from the way it was seen in the era when the Umpire's decision was truly final."
Look at what has happened since then. Every single decision made by an Umpire in a series where DRS is not available, is still verified using ball-tracking. Even experienced observers like Tony Cozier, who has been watching cricket for over half a century, could not help but comment on the absence of DRS during the recent series in the West Indies.

When Alistair Cook was given Out LBW at Lord's today, the first reaction of one of the commentators was "There's no DRS for LBWs and that means Cook has to go!". The other one looked at the LBW decision and the first thing he said immediately after the finger was raised was "Well! That's a surprise... ". This must have had something to do with the brilliant form that Cook has been in. But the amazing thing was that the commentators seemed to suggest that Cook was somehow hard done by because he didn't have the option of asking for the review! Only after seeing the ball-track hit the top of leg stump, did the commentators say that it was a brilliant decision. And it was not just the ball-track, but the ball-track with the full LBW protocol. The conclusion for where the ball would have gone was not "Umpire's Call", but "Hitting". These are not lay viewers, these are former international cricketers, whose careers began and ended in the pre-DRS era. They could not bring themselves to make an informed judgment based on what they say. An informed judgment, even to my decidedly amateur eyes would have read something like this.

"That looked close. Cook was trapped on the crease there. He's a tall man, the ball hit him around the knee roll. He seemed to fall over to the off side. Umpire Rauf must have been satisfied that it was definitely hitting leg stump. There is nothing obviously wrong with that decision"

Yet, former Test players couldn't bring themselves to say anything about an international Umpire's LBW decision, before they saw the ball-track! In light of this, is it not ridiculous for the ICC to say that DRS supports Umpires? It does far more than that. It has become the Umpire's schoolmaster. It has reduced every Umpiring decision into an answer to an exam question, waiting to be evaluated.

But dissent has cropped up in other ways. MS Dhoni got away with making some fairly sarcastic comments about Darryl Harper after the Barbados Test. Whats more, if Umpire Harper is to be believed, the Indian captain told him "We've had problems with you before, Darryl". If what Umpire Harper says is true, then India's players have behaved shockingly with him. Here is what Harper said about Amit Mishra in that game:
"That couldn't be confirmed either way by replays … but regardless of where it came from, for my money that guy missed the point. There's no code of conduct for good decisions or bad decisions. The code of conduct is there to test out the strength of character, and on that occasion his character failed to respond in the appropriate way, and four days later he still hadn't worked out that he'd breached the code of conduct and thought he was quite justified.
"For me that's very sad, and shows a total lack of [a grasp of] what the spirit of cricket is all about."
Umpire Harper is right. What I am curious about, is whether Umpire Harper made an official charge against MS Dhoni to the Match Referee. Umpires are entitled to report offenses (pdf) at all levels If he didn't then procedurally, he's at fault. But if he did, and Jeff Crowe decided not to look into it, then its a terrible problem.

But this is what DRS has done to Umpires. By allowing players to dispute their decisions, it has severely dented the position of the Umpire as the final authority on the field of play. Once players are able to dispute Umpires decisions, they can even begin to have a say in how the law is interpreted. In fact, this has already happened in the case of the 2.5m rule during the World Cup.

It is true that Darryl Harper was removed from the ICC's Elite Panel. It is also probably true that he was more error prone than some of his colleagues, like his fellow Australian Simon Taufel. But nevertheless, he was a Test Umpire 95 times. Whats more, even though his contract with the Elite panel was not going to be renewed, his contract did not expire until June 30. The annual contract runs from July 1 - June 30 each year, with some flexibility to accommodate the completion of work in an ongoing series. So Umpire Harper was still a member of the Elite Panel until the completion of the series in West Indies.

If DRS is going to be used in its present form, dissent has to be redefined by the ICC. Dissent is currently defined very strictly
2.1.3 Showing dissent at an Umpire’s decision during an International Match.
Note: Article 2.1.3 includes: (a) excessive, obvious disappointment with an Umpire’s decision; (b) an obvious delay in resuming play or leaving the wicket; (c) shaking the head; (d) pointing or looking at the inside edge when given out lbw; (e) pointing to the pad or rubbing the shoulder when caught behind; (f) snatching the cap from the Umpire; (g) requesting a referral to the TV Umpire (other than in the context of a legitimate request for a referral as may be permitted in such International Match); and (h) arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the Umpire about his decision. It shall not be a defence to any charge brought under this Article to show that the Umpire might have, or in fact did, get any decision wrong.
DRS requires players to dispute the Umpire's decision. To argue that this definition could still be useful as long as it is applied after the Umpire has made his final decision, is to simply wish the problem away.

It is not a surprise that much of the dissent in recent times has not occured for obvious umpiring mistakes, but in the case of marginal, judgment calls. If players are to be allowed to dispute an Umpire's decision, then it is obvious that the disputes will be most strenuous in case where the evidence is not conclusive and the Umpire has to assert himself as the decision maker.

I wish I could say that the ICC is learning that replacing a one stop shop with a complicated collaborative approach in which players are asked to have skin in the game, brings all sorts of unforeseen complications. Its the old adage about having too many moving parts. But it is far from clear that they are.


  1. The DRS system is fundamentally flawed and should be eliminated. Players should not be allowed to dispute ANY decision, period. They should only have the option of appealing to an Umpire, the on-field one or the third umpire.
    What we should really have is a Decision Assistance System where the third Umpire plays a major role. Ideally it should be the third Umpire who should be charged with watching every ball and the replays very carefully and stepping in decisively whenever there is a decision (out or not out) which is not clear-cut or where the on-field Umpire has erred either ways.
    This would remove the need to amend the players code of conduct.

  2. Agree! Again a brilliant article, Hawk Eye and ball tracking technology are hiding the real issue of DRS which is destroying what the umpire stands for.

    How can this assist the umpire, when it is the players who have a say in the decisions?

    How can you give the players this much power over the umpires?

    Seems ridiculous. And all you here on the net is how bcci are against hawk eye! Really?! Can you people stop with your BCCI bashing and concentrate on the real issues? This is a destruction of the game of cricket for me, and of umpiring. DRS will change the game as we know it. At least in my opinion.