Sunday, April 08, 2012

On Commentary After DRS

Since the advent of ball tracking, a remarkable number of former cricketers have stopped offering an opinion on an LBW appeal before seeing the ball-track. The rare exception to this is Ian Chappell, who, at times, has the confidence in his own cricketing judgment to say that he thinks something is Out when the ball-track tells us otherwise. I saw an example of this today. I was watching a few overs of the Barbados Test over lunch, when the Cricinfo commentator reported an event thus. He was very unfair to Umpire in this instance in my view:
135.4 Lyon to Chanderpaul, no run, forward and an appeal for lbw on off stump, immediately turned down by Tony Hill but they'll review this. I thought it was a good shout...but he's saved by millimetres as hawk-eye has it hitting off stump every so slightly off centre so it stays on the field, very unlucky and, for Chanderpaul, a good job the umpire gave it not out
This was yet another one of those decisions which should never have been reviewed using the ball-track. The TV Umpire should have had the chance to look at Hill's original decision and say "That's marginal, and its reasonable to give that Not Out, so I'm not going to ask for the Ball-Track's opinion on this". This would not be a simple matter of being nice to the Umpire on the field, but it has scientific merit as well.

As an observer, the Umpire is in the best position to judge events on the field. Commentators often used this line, and it came to be seen as something of a cliche. But there is genuine merit to this matter. The TV camera behind the bowlers arm is never exactly on a line connecting middle stump to middle stump. The fact that it is much higher than the Umpire's eye level further impacts how a decision will be judged on TV compared to how it will be judged on the field. This difference, logically speaking, must be most prominently evident in the case of marginal calls.

So how does one commentate on this? "I thought it was a good shout", says Cricinfo's man. But the Cricinfo man is sitting in the press box on saying this based on what he sees on TV. Or, more likely, he's sitting in an office in Bangalore, or Bombay or some other city in the world, with his attention divided between the TV and his typing. A more reasonable, and accurate way to put this would be "From my distant position, I thought it was a good shout". There is no effort to consider why another human being might have made a choice that is different from one's own.

The reason why one defers to an Umpire's judgment in the marginal case, is not because the Umpire is a superior species to the rest of us, but because the Umpire is charged with using all his attention to make that judgment. This is not the case with any other person involved (not the TV commentator who is trying to entertain an audience, not a radio commentator who is trying to describe the action, not an online commentator who is trying to pay attention to the cricket, to writing, to reading feedback etc., and not you and me sitting at home). That is also why the Umpire has been provided the best position from which the judge these events.

What the advent of DRS has done is increase the contempt that is usually reserved for Umpires. The idea that the Umpires deserves deference (as far as his choice of decision goes) in marginal cases has gone out of the window. What is more interesting, and more aggravating in a lot of ways, is that it has gone out of the window even for professional commentators. DRS (especially in the case of LBWs) has dehumanized the Umpire.


  1. Very good point. I was also quite appalled by Tony Greig's commentary during the SL-Eng series. For about 20 mins he was continuously saying that Swann should be bowling around the wicket to the right hander. That in itself is fair enough but the reasoning that he was giving was that Swann could get lbw's using DRS when he bowls around the wicket. The exact words I think were "All he needs to do is come around the wicket and hit the pads and DRS will take care of the rest" or something to that effect.

  2. This is all a kind of drama going on these days. will cool down after a couple of days..

  3. Well I personally think that The DRS system is not 100% perfect.Recall that lbw shout for Sachin Tendulkar's wicket in the worldcup semi-final.That was out and was given by the on-field umpire too,but the hawk-eye changed the view and turned down the decision.So its not perfect.

  4. @aarkay123 makes a good point. Considering it is Tony Greig, you could understand the incompetence.