Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dhoni Given Out Based On Wrong Replay: Broadcaster At Fault

A number of Indian news outlets are reporting that M S Dhoni was given Out in India's first innings at Barbados based on a wrong replay. I first saw the Press Trust of India release on NDTV. The story has since also appeared on Hindustan Times and Rediff as well. The story is cursory and there is no indication as to how this information became known.

It appears that the replay that was shown following Umpire Gould's request for a second look was not the delivery that dismissed Edwards. This is not implausible, since what was shown from the square-of-the-wicket camera which tracks the bowling crease did not show the full delivery. It only shows the delivery stride.

I actually watched that dismissal live, and remember being surprised by the fact that the replay did not suggest that Edwards was anywhere close to overstepping. Ian Gould has proved to be a terrific Umpire, and I remember wondering how he could have erred so substantially by calling that delivery a no-ball. It wasn't even marginal based on the replay.

I hope the TV Umpire or the field Umpires are not blamed for this, because they have no control over the video feed or the replay feed. They can at best request different angles, but are in no position to confirm that the replay was actually of the delivery in the question. On this basic question, they have to trust the Broadcaster.

It will be interesting to see how the commentators spin this tomorrow, for they are employed by the Broadcaster.

This has hopefully brought another little wrinkle of the review process to the fore. We have heard about the role of the vendors of the technology, the players, the Umpires, the TV Umpires and the Commentators, but we rarely hear about the crucial role that the Broadcaster plays in providing replays. This is especially crucial when it comes to decision making, as has been exemplified in MS Dhoni's case.

I really hope that the story is told accurately during tomorrows play, and the Umpires do not cop any of the blame. Twice within a period of three months, Ian Gould has been dragged into an Umpiring error for no fault of his own due to this review business. He had a perfectly reasonable LBW overturned through an opportunistic review by Sachin Tendulkar at Mohali, and now, his better instincts have come to naught because the guy incharge of lining up replays lined up the wrong one!

This has been a miserable few months for the cause of technology in Cricket. Maybe its a signal.

DRS, Not Dhoni To Blame for Harper's Decision

One of the underrated aspects of the DRS is its effect on idea the of dissent. I have written about this previously and found reason to defend (with caveats) an unlikely candidate - Ricky Ponting. Umpire Daryl Harper of Australia, who was removed from the ICC's Elite Panel of Umpires in May 2011 along with Umpire Asoka de Silva, has withdrawn from the 3rd and Final Test of India's tour of the West Indies. He cited "unfair criticism" as the reason for his undoing.

DRS has pitted Umpires against the technology by way of the player review. Previously, a captain criticizing an umpire would be rare and frowned upon. Now that the Player Review has turned every Umpiring decision into a basis for negotiation, the idea of dissent itself has to be seen anew in this post-DRS world. A player now has a right to ask questions and be wrong twice in a Test Match innings and once in a limited overs innings. It is fantastical to believe that this changed relationship between player and umpire on the field will have no effect on this relationship off the field. Thanks to the ICC's acceptance of ball-tracking as evidence, players are now armed with this against Umpires. There is now another set of eyes which has been considered equivalent or superior to the Umpire, which can be set against the Umpire's judgment.

Even situations where DRS is not at work are affected by this. Every party in the Sabina Park Test has had a taste of DRS. Daryl Harper was shown up as being error prone under the glare of ball-tracking and hotspot, and under Dhoni, India have had a tenuous relationship with the player review and ball-tracking, most recently with the 2.5 metre rule during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

In a sense, Darryl Harper is right, Dhoni's criticism was unfair in its content. It was also graceless and cavalier in its style, with more than just a slight trace of contempt. But DRS has legitimized the content of Dhoni's criticism, if not the style. In the post-DRS world, Umpires are no longer figures of authority - the last word on the cricket field. They are largely relics, waiting to be corrected in a heavy handed way by players who find their decisions merely inconvenient. That was what Sachin Tendulkar did to Ian Gould in the World Cup Semi Final. That is what Graeme Swann talks of when he talks of getting many more LBWs thanks to DRS.

The ICC currently has a system with too many moving, unreliable parts, and hence too many points at which it can be criticized - points at which a defense is at best weak, but usually non-existent.

Darryl Harper is just the latest victim.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Epic Video

32 minutes of one of the great batting careers in the history of Test Cricket. I think this is basically every single boundary he hit in his Test career. Watch one stroke especially at 8:25 or so. A cover drive off Muralitharan. You will never forget it.

He could score in every direction. Cuts, Drives, Sweeps, Pulls, every shot in the book.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Hawkeye Optional, Hotspot, BCCI In, Problems Remain

Events sure have moved fast at the ICC's Executive Committee meeting and in the Press, mostly for the better. The crux of the problem and the basic misunderstanding of DRS remains. While the technologies in DRS are now viewed with the skepticism (in the absence of any serious independent scrutiny) that they deserve, the basic problem of resolving issues with the communications protocol remain.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


When you've played for India for 22 years, made nearly 35000 international runs and 100 international hundreds, you get to travel to London in the summer and watch Wimbledon. Not only that, the greatest tennis player ever (7 time Wimbledon Champion) meets with you.

Of all the A team India players who are not in the West Indies, Tendulkar is the one whose case I am most sympathetic to.


This week the BCCI has built on some of the arguments that have hitherto been attributed to it and India's players with respect to the Decision Review System. Niranjan Shah, at one time the Secretary of the BCCI (a successor to the powerful and comical J Y Lele) and now a Vice President of BCCI makes a detailed and coherent argument on DNA. You may or may not agree with it, but unlike the totally arbitrary, unsupported statement from Dave Richardson ("The level of believability in ball-tracking systems has improved"), Mr. Shah has actually offered an argument - a rationale, which we have some way of assessing. Earlier this week, a report by Lokendra Pratap Sahi about DRS included a clarification by BCCI that it “does not accept the reliability of the ball-tracking technology, which is an integral part of the DRS.”. It is worth going into what Mr. Shah says in some detail.

Mr. Shah basically makes the following claims:

1. DRS is not foolproof, or 100% accurate. The gains through DRS are marginal, and the costs of the system does not justify such marginal gains.
2. The system requires about $ 60,000 per day. There were 65 Tests and 170 ODIs played last year. The DRS bill would come to about $30 million based on such a rate.
3. There is currently no competition amongst vendors of technology.
4. Cricket has survived despite partisan umpires, and for Mr. Shah, the human element must be preserved.
5. The Player Review limits the number of times DRS can be used. For all this money, it doesn't even work all the time. Once a side has exhausted its reviews, subsequent errors continue to go unchecked.

It goes on. I recommend a careful, critical reading.

Mr. Shah is most incisive when he goes after the ICC for preventing competition. The ICC Cricket Committee's review of DRS has been a joke. There was no independent assessment, and only 1 of the vendors made a presentation. Mr. Stephen Carter. This cannot be stressed enough. The ICC has not seriously, independently, evaluated ball-tracking technology.

The one area where I disagree with Mr. Shah is in his pessimism related to use of technology to look for obvious mistakes. It is possible to use it, and some of the technology for DRS is already in place even in situations where DRS is not used. For example, ball-tracking is available in the West Indies even though DRS is not being used.

While BCCI may have a good argument against DRS, it will serve them well if they propose an alternative to improving decision making and using technology to do so. But they have, as of now, made more coherent arguments in the debate than the ICC (through Mr. Richardson or Mr. Lorgat or anybody else) or the ECB or anybody else.

Here's the extent of the arguments offered by most people (not all, there are some exceptions) who support DRS.

First, it is claimed that DRS should be used in its current form because it is good for the game. Why is it good for the game? Because it improves decision making. Does it do so efficiently? Here the answer has to be mixed in the face of 3 years of tested and accumulated evidence. The argument usually comes down to a final, so far unanswerable question from my position - Why should DRS still be used in its current form if it is a bad way to solve a stated problem?

For the England players, it has been a simple equation. DRS is good because they get more decisions. Remarkably, a lot of cricket writers think this is a reasonable argument!

Given my plea for a debate about DRS, Mr. Shah's arguments have been a pleasant surprise. He has presented the economic side of things - a side which I knew nothing about so far. That is a fine contribution.

Now if only Mr. Richardson could publish a long 6000 word article detailing the history of the development of DRS, and explaining why it has occured according to highest, most rigorous standards of developing a information technology solution.

If only!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Open Challenge about DRS

DRS, about which I have had a little something to say on this blog, is the most revolutionary ongoing change in cricket along with the advent of the IPL. It threatens to change the interpretation of laws (like LBW) and the relationship between players and umpires, not to speak of the position of the Umpire. The BCCI has, in recent days sharpened its position on DRS (the important news in this item is in the footnote!), and clarified that it opposes DRS because it distrusts ball-tracking technology which is an important part of DRS as it is currently construed. None of the other parties involved - the ICC, former players or the Press, are willing to say anything specific about DRS. They have turned it into an argument about BCCI's supposed arrogance, power, clout etc., but won't argue the issue. I write this post as an open challenge to every professional publication that reports cricket related news and opinion. Please argue about the DRS itself, and not about nebulous nonsense like the "arrogance" of an institution.

How to argue about DRS? Here's some assistance. Here are some basic questions which in my view must be answered by all parties who have an opinion about DRS in order for their opinion to be considered serious. I don't know what the final outcome of the debate should be. I have an idea which I have arrived at after examining the different aspects of the issue at length over 3 years, but it would be nice if there were others.

1. What is the purpose of DRS? Is it only to eliminate obvious umpiring errors? Or is it to augment the expertise of the umpire?
These are two distinct goals. The first is an effort to correct mistakes, while the second is to replace the Umpire's opinion with ball-tracker opinion. The second is what has currently happened, as the DRS stats for the World Cup show.

2. What is your opinion of the Player Review? Do players always have additional information on the basis of which they can request a review? Are they as likely to have additional information in the case of LBW appeals as opposed to say bat-pad or caught-behind appeals?

3. Ball tracking: By what measure is ball-tracking technology to be assessed? How do we know it is accurate? Has there been any independent assessment of ball-tracking technology? Which ball-tracking method is better? The one used by Hawkeye Innovations (who make Hawkeye which was used in the 2011 World Cup) or Animation Research (who make Virtual Eye which was used in the 2010-11 Ashes)? These are two different ball-tracking technologies.

Without finding out and reporting where the parties stand on these three basic questions, it is worthless to ask them where they stand on DRS. Any report which offers an opinion about DRS without reporting on a position about these three question (at least) is not serious. It is useless to simply say either that DRS is not "100% foolproof", or that it "has improved decision making". Anyone who simply says "I believe the technology" does not know anything about the technology. This goes for Lalit Modi, Ravi Shastri, Geoffrey Boycott, and sundry Indian publications who seem united in their support of DRS.

Dave Richardson, the former South Africa wicketkeeper who is supposed to be in charge of technology related issues for the ICC is quoted as saying that "It confuses the players and viewers if one series has DRS and another does not.", a bizarre comment which places unreasonable pressure on the meaning of the word "confuse".

I beg all professional journalists to actually argue about DRS, and report on the debate. Currently they are doing neither. The exemplary case of the behavior of the press in the DRS debate would be this sequence from Hindustan Times. First they misrepresented Sachin Tendulkar's position on the DRS (see Cricinfo's report on the same story), and then accused BCCI of "no-balling" Tendulkar. I think that by this the headline writer meant to say that BCCI contradicted Tendulkar. It didn't. Even the metaphor is flawed, the BCCI said nothing to Tendulkar so they couldn't have "no-balled" him. But never mind. Do you begin to see the reason for my exasperation? Today the Hindu has published an editorial (no less!) titled "shed-DRS phobia" that is factually wrong on several counts, most crucially, on the role of the Cricket Committee and that of the upcoming Chief's meeting in Hong Kong when it comes to examining evidence of DRS.

The BCCI is many things, but on DRS, while it has not proposed an alternative, it has been very clear and definite about its objection. That is more than can be said about the ICC or the BCCI's DRS related critics in the Press.

I challenge any publication that claims to take its Cricket seriously. I'm willing to do any leg work you want me to do for you, for free. But for Cricket's sake, please argue about DRS.

India v West Indies, Sabina Park, Review

India have won the first Test of their series in the West Indies after lunch on the 4th day at Sabina Park in Jamaica. The site of West Indian brutality in 1976 is now the site of two consecutive Indian wins. It is hard to say which is truer - that India won, or that West Indies lost. Think back to Day 1 and India were 85/6. I can remember very few Test Matches where a team has won after being 6 down for less than a 100 in the first innings of a Test. Three come to mind immediately. Do contribute with a comment if you know any other instances. Pakistan beat India at Kolkata in 1999 after being 26/6 within the first 9 overs. India beat Australia at Mumbai in 2004 after being 46/6 and then 68/7 on the first day. India's last win in the West Indies came after being 91/6 in their first innings. Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble rescued India with a stand of 94, before Harbhajan Singh (5/13 in the WI first innings) and Anil Kumble (6/78 in the WI second innings) saw India to a 49 run win. Then as now, Rahul Dravid played crucial innings of 81 and 68, top scoring in both innings. That wicket was probably worse for batting than this one, and then, as now, West Indies lost despite making the highest score in the match.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tendulkar LBW, WC 2011 SF and DRS

Sachin Tendulkar was given Out LBW by Umpire Ian Gould on the 4th ball of the 11th over of India's Semi Final against Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup at Mohali. Tendulkar asked for the decision to be reviewed and the ball was shown by the prediction to be missing leg stump by a whisker. This event is likely to be presented as Exhibit A in the case for DRS by the proponents of Hawkeye. However, as I will try to show in this post, this event is infact Exhibit A in the case against DRS as it is currently implemented, and in favor of a Third Umpire Review.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

3 LBWs against Sachin Tendulkar: The Role of the Third Umpire Review

See these three LBW decisions, all against Tendulkar in 2009 in Sri Lanka. The video has been lovingly made by a deep admirer of the great man who is clearly very upset that Tendulkar seems to have gotten three rough decisions. For my purposes it is a very useful video for it provides a ready case study for DRS.

Jayasurya in England: Rajapakse's man

Andy Bull has a provocative article in the Guardian today arguing that it is a disgrace that Sanath Jayasurya, as a "direct representative" of the Government of Sri Lanka which is accused of War Crimes, will face England in the ODI games this week. Bull argues that Jayasurya's inclusion is part of a political public relations ploy by the Sri Lankan President Mahendra Rajapakse.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Third Umpire Review

DRS consists of the Umpire Review and the Player Review. I propose that the Player Review be replaced by the Third Umpire Review. Of all the people involved in decision making right now, the Third Umpire has the most information. He has enough time between deliveries (just like you and me watching on TV) to see replays and answer two questions -

1. Has an obvious mistake been made by the Umpire?
2. If it is not clear that an obvious mistake has been made, then is it worthwhile having a second look at the situation?

If any of these two questions can be answered affirmatively by the Third Umpire, then he should immediately inform the field Umpire of the same. If not, the game goes on.

This would let most marginal LBW decisions stand, but still check the more egregious mistakes. It would reverse the most obvious bump balls and bat pad decisions quite quickly with the help of Hotspot and Super Slo-Mo replays. It would also not arbitrarily limit the number of unsuccessful reviews to 2 per innings. The premise here is that the Umpire, as an expert, will, with a second look be able to eliminate all obvious mistakes by the on-field umpire.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Graeme Pollock batting in 1970

This is a video of Graeme Pollock's 114 for Rest of the World XI v England in 1970. The series was played in place of the cancelled South African visit to England. This innings included a stand of 165 with Gary Sobers, who you can see at the non-strikers end for much of the innings.

What is remarkable about Pollock is the near complete lack of footwork. He must have had an unbelievable eye. A couple of those cut shots off Don Wilson (Yorkshire and England) were played to very good length balls.

England had a good bowling attack too. John Snow was to tour Australia that winter with Ray Illingworth team and win the Ashes for England, taking 31 wicket in the series.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Question Tendulkar Should Be Asked

But probably wasn't.

Sharda Ugra reported on Cricinfo that Sachin Tendulkar has nothing against DRS, but thinks that consistency is the key, and that DRS would be more effective if combined with Snickometer and Hawkeye. Today she quotes the CEO of Virtual Eye, Ian Taylor as agreeing with Tendulkar.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A DRS Primer

With India's refusal to allow DRS to be used on their forthcoming England tour, the debate has been re-ignited, often along frustrating lines. In this post, I refer back to coverage of DRS (UDRS or Referral system as it was called back then) on this blog in an effort to summarize concerns and develop the argument. I wont refer to every post, just a few. You can see all the posts here. This primer is intended as a one stop shop to my coverage of DRS. Regular readers might find this rehashing a bit tiresome, but I think it is important to keep participating in the argument, especially when the issue is alive as it is right now.

Tendulkar says DRS is good for the game

Or not. Despite the Hindustan Times headline, you only have to look what Tendulkar is quoted as saying to realize that he's saying nothing about DRS. He thinks Hotspot and Snickometer should be used. The article says nothing about his views on Hawkeye.

But DRS has a far more troubling problem - the player review. This is the frustrating thing about this debate. Even the professional organizations which tell us about it are totally cavalier in their use of the terminology. DRS, Hawkeye, Hotspot, Snickometer, Technology, Reviews - all these terms are used interchangeably, when in fact, they are anything but.

Cricinfo has used a more careful headline. The BCCI's Shashank Manohar has also provided the most accurate description of ball-tracking technology - "It is someone else's imagination against the Umpire's imagination". This will sound outrageously flawed to some people, but that's precisely what Hawkeye is - it is the trajectory of the ball as predicted by some algorithm using some limited sample of information extracted from video recordings using some other limited and limiting technology. It is Hawkeye Innovations imagination against the Umpire's.

There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Hawkeye Innovations in more accurate than an Umpire. The ICC has not even sought any such verification.

Graeme Swann's LBWs and DRS

Much has been made of Graeme Swann's high percentage of LBW decisions in the context of the DRS debate. The former England off-spinner John Emburey has argued that DRS is a "massive advantage to the spinner" and that the reason that India don't want the DRS is that because it will favor England's bowlers. Another former England bowler Mike Selvey wrote a column in the Guardian today in which he argued that "MS Dhoni's intransigence against UDRS is likely to prove self-defeating". Further, he speculates that perhaps MS Dhoni has deliberately opposed DRS to counter the one player beyond all has reaped most consistent benefit from it – Graeme Swann.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NDTV Interviews Zaheer Khan

Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, recipient of the Padma Bhushan from the Government of India and host of NDTV's interview show Walk-the-Talk interviewed Zaheer Khan on the show this week. If ever there was an interview which left you frustrated despite being excellent, this was it. Here was a true expert of his craft ready and willing to talk about fast bowling in detail. Unfortunately, he kept being interrupted and he kept getting waylaid by silly questions like "Was Hayden saying rude things?". It was as though Mr. Gupta couldn't decide who he wanted to play on this week's show - the star-struck 10 year old talking to Superman, or the snide old uncle talking a successful young nephew.

When I think of all the things I would want to ask Zaheer Khan about fast bowling, this interview makes me cringe. Here's an old post I wrote about Zaheer in April 2009 after he'd bowled India to a series victory in New Zealand.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"UDRS does work, most of the time"

The BCCI has opposed the use of DRS in India's forthcoming series against England. As a result, DRS will not be used during the Test series or the ODI series that will follow. As the world of reporting and opinion about Cricket enters another round of DRS related back-and-forths, and as we prepare to hear England's commentators whine about how DRS is the greatest thing since sliced bread but the smug fat-cat neanderthals from BCCI don't understand it, its worth summarizing the debate one more time. As an aid, I recommend this article published at the Bleacher Report. The article and the two comments (one of them by the author) offer the distilled essence of the argument for DRS. The article further makes a novel suggestion - that while the ICC can't sanction BCCI, since the BCCI is technically within its rights to oppose DRS as per the ICC's regulations, the Cricket Boards who do agree with the implementation of DRS, as a group, should "sanction" BCCI.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fire in Babylon and West Indian Cricket History

Fire in Babylon tells us a story about West Indies Cricket under Clive Lloyd between 1975 and 1984. That is a generous description of the film, for it treats cricket with only cursory interest, in the same way that it treats the politics of the postcolony. In the process it runs roughshod over facts, history and the game about which it speaks. A viewer uninitiated in cricket, but reasonably aware of post-colonial history will find it boring, for it is unlikely to tell her anything particularly insightful. A serious cricket fan is likely to be outraged by the nearly complete de-historicization of West Indies Cricket.

Monday, June 06, 2011

How seriously did the ICC Cricket Committee Review DRS?

Since the ICC's Cricket Committee met on May 11, and decided that DRS was progressing well, I have been trying to find out what aspects of DRS were discussed by the ICC's Cricket Committee in arriving at this decision. The World Cup was quite revealing as far as DRS is concerned. Since the ICC's meeting, DRS has been used in the England v Sri Lanka Tests, in which there is some reason to believe that despite the ICC's claims, some umpires are willing to accept lesser evidence than others.

After the May 11 meeting, I asked the ICC the following questions. They've answered some of them, but not others.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tendulkar at Lord's

He's made more international hundreds than any other player. He's made them in every conceivable match situation, but he's made only one century at Lord's. It came against McGrath, Donald, McMillan, Srinath and Kumble on July 18, 1998 in a MCC v World XI game played in memorial to Princess Diana.

It was a sunny July day. Made for batting. Tendulkar and Arvinda de Silva destroyed a very high quality bowling attack. These games make for very high quality cricket because great players play more freely than they would in international cricket. They try things that they wouldn't otherwise. McGrath experimented with his slower ball quite a bit, while Tendulkar played more freely in front of square on the leg side than you see him play in Test Cricket or ODIs. Balls which he would quietly play towards square leg or mid-on (depending on length and line) were played with gusto through and over mid-wicket. One particular stroke which isn't in the videos below, was a screaming square drive off the back foot just in front of square of Donald's quickest ball of the day. Sourav Ganguly was on the boundary at deep point, and Tendulkar had to sprint about 2/3rd of his run on the throw!

These games are now probably a thing of the past, what with IPL, three forms of international cricket and 10 Test playing nations.