Thursday, December 27, 2012

DRS: The Ryobi Cup Episode

The latest episode in the history of DRS prompts this year end review of the controversial system that is used in some international cricket. While the discussion of DRS has improved substantially over the last 18 months, Umpiring mistakes in non-DRS series still commonly invite calls for the use of DRS specifically, not for technological assistance in general.

An alternative system of review was tried out in Australia in the Ryobi Cup. The playing conditions (found here, see Appendix 8)

Third Umpire Intervention
(a) In addition to the above, the third umpire may intervene and stop play to allow the investigation of any out or not out decision (“the original decision”) where, based on all available evidence, it appears to the third umpire that the original decision may have been  incorrect and/or warrants such investigation. The intervention shall be communicated to the on-field umpires as soon as possible but must be done before the next delivery becomes live or the outgoing batsman has left the field of play. The on-field umpire will signal that an intervention is in progress by holding both arms extended and crossed above his head and will either suspend play or request that the outgoing batsman remain on the field of play pending further communication from the third umpire in accordance with (d) below. 
The system was scrapped midway through the tournament after multiple players and coaches were dissatisfied with it . The former wicketkeeper and current South Australia coach Darren Berry made some good points about the drawbacks of this system. In his review he advocated scrapping this system and made the following points.

1. Players are slow in leaving the field when given out in the hope that a review will save them.
2. Some of the TV Umpire's decisions seem arbitrary. He cites the specific instance of one game in which "[s]ome batsmen who were, on replay, in fact out lbw were not reviewed, then, out of the blue, Queensland batsman Peter Forrest was given not out lbw by the field umpire only then to be reviewed and overturned by the third umpire."
3. Berry points out a ridiculous situation caused by the broadcasters. "If a strong appeal worthy of decision review occurs on ball six of the over and the broadcaster is due to take an advert then no replay is sent and the decision is not reviewed. This makes a mockery of a system that is endeavouring to correct mistakes. How is ball six no less important than ball two of an over? It's unavoidable we are told, but is unacceptable as a match could be decided or at least strongly influenced due to this situation."

The former ICC Umpire, and current ICC Umpire Performance and Training Manager Simon Taufel made some points on his recent podcast with Subash that are relevant to this discussion:

"The first is, in these days, the third umpire in a full technology series, arguably, the better umpires need to be on the third umpires’ box. That is where you can’t afford to make mistakes. It is an incredibly challenging job umpiring role these days because not only must you be familiar with the technology and how to use it, but you should also be able to interpret it, apply it and also support your on-field umpires with over-rates and other forms of decisions and manage the match from your off-field position."
He continues:

"There is over rate, ball counting, overs per bowler, code of conduct, front-foot no balls, run outs, stumping, hit-wickets, the DRS decisions, player challenges. It is incredibly challenging role. And on top of that you have to be a master of communication. You keep working with different directors, knowing where the different camera angles and replays are, and get the best footage possible for making the right decision possible, rather than just to take what you get. It is a real challenging role these days."

The ICC has made much of the fact that DRS has minimized dissent. I have argued previously that in fact it has legitimized dissent. It may well require some necessary heavy handedness on the part of Cricket authorities in Australia to put the genie back in the bottle. Players have gotten used to questioning the Umpire's decision. In the case of the Ryobi cup, there was player dissatisfaction even though the correct decisions were made.

Based on the criticisms offered by Darren Berry and Chris Hartley, the system devised for the Ryobi Cup seems to have been insufficiently worked out. Replays have to be guaranteed equally for every single ball. That problem by itself, is arguably reason enough to not only discontinue the system, but also to prohibit whoever it was who devised the system from being involved in designing the next version. Putting a system in place where every ball is not equally covered is plainly negligent.

It is far from clear that the Umpire review approach is a failure. The deepest problem seems to me to be about not interrupting the flow of the game.

At this moment in the history of DRS, each of the following points is a fact:

1. There is broad agreement that the technology should be able to correct obviously wrong decisions.
2. The Player Review has resulted in players reviewing decisions they don't like, as opposed to decisions that they think are obviously wrong. With the result that 80% of reviews are LBWs, and a similar percent are unsuccessful.
3. The extent to which events on the field can be conclusively judged using technology depends on the extent to which the technology is available. For example, it is very difficult to judge a thin inside edge on a replay alone in the absence of heat signature technology. The ICC has tried ti mitigate this by mandating that a certain minimum standard of technology should be available in an international match.
4. Even with readily available technology, some umpiring decisions cannot be conclusively reviewed.
5. The DRS Umpire Review, Player Review and the Ryobi Cup style review, all require the third Umpire to review multiple events, and make their job as demanding as that of the Umpire at the bowling end.

Here are some suggestions about the Umpire Review

If the Umpire Review approach has to be used, then it must involve clear definitions of (a) An "obvious" error, and (b) What constitutes dissent. The problem is one of time. The first replay from the broadcaster is probably not always the most useful one. The job of the editor of the broadcast becomes a very important one.

Umpire Taufel said in his interview that he does not watch batsmen or bowlers, he just watches the ball, the bat and the pads. Perhaps one of the ways to solve the problem would be to give the TV Umpire a separate editor and a separate customized feed, which can cut out the frills - give him the speed and efficiency of the command line over the frills of the GUI, to use a computing analogy. But Umpire Taufel's essential point - that an Umpire watches cricket very differently from the viewers, makes it clear that cameras dedicated to Umpiring must do so too. This could perhaps involve a live infra-red camera (with only the requisite delay that is required to process the heat signatures, say 3-4 seconds). Given Umpire Reviews, perhaps two TV Umpires should be in place, each working on alternative overs. This will help Umpires watch every ball carefully.

On the question of the obvious error, I think the question needs to be turned around. Players need to accept that given the way the LBW law is defined, there will always be appeals where the Out as well as the Not Out decision are both reasonable. As a result, if a marginal one is reversed sometimes, but not reversed on others, then that is still reasonable. As long as the players are confident that the Umpire is not doing it because he dislikes a particular team or player, it should be not be a problem.

The dissent rule is the simplest thing to implement. Unless a player is asked to stop by the Umpire at the bowling end, he must start walking off the pitch if he is given out on the field. Any failure to do so must constitute dissent. Any appearance of hesitation, or any effort to turn back and look around at a replay or the Umpires must constitute dissent. And this dissent should immediately invite a 1 match ban. Furthermore, in this specific instance, the Match Referee should be permitted to bring the charge and rule on it during the hearing.

Finally, the policy used by the BCCI of not showing replays on the ground while a review is in progress should be adopted universally. Once a decision is made, it should be displayed clearly as one of the following:

1. Decision on the field conclusively confirmed.
2. Decision on the field conclusively reversed.
3. Decision on the field could not be conclusively reviewed.

What is needed is for a rigorously designed system to be given a fair run. While Cricket Australia's experiment in the Ryobi Cup was admirable, the same cannot be said of either its design or implementation.


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