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A review of cricket’s Decision Review System is overdue

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19th July, 2019
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With cricket’s World Cup completed, the time is overdue for the ICC to address some obvious flaws their Decision Review System continues to struggle with.

Most of these flaws exist due to the initial reluctance of many parties around the cricketing world to embrace the use of technology and any process similar to the DRS.

It’s understandable that the ICC’s original system was conservative in its use of technology. What’s less acceptable is the lack of changes to the system as technology has improved and players, umpires and supporters have become more comfortable with reviewing important decisions.

The two biggest flaws the DRS has is that the small number of unsuccessful player referrals provided for each team means video replays often don’t get used to correct poor umpiring decisions. It also gives too much benefit of the doubt to the umpire’s original decisions.

Throughout the 2019 World Cup, there were many times when the DRS was exposed for its inadequacies. It’s almost a pity that the controversy surrounding Ben Stokes’ six runs off the bat in the last over of the final wasn’t a situation that embarrassingly exposed the DRS’s flaw. Something of this magnitude may have led to a more thorough review.

Tracking Jason Roy’s progress through the World Cup can provide a good case study of why the current DRS is failing the gentlemen’s game. An effective system should be helping provide a better product for the players, umpires and fans to enjoy, but Roy’s case shows a clear example of this not happening.

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Roy received a huge let off from the Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar in England’s important pool game against India when he gloved a ball down leg-side on 20. India chose to save their review which enabled the English opener to blaze away hitting the next two balls for six and four.

He was eventually dismissed for 66 off 57 balls in an innings that set up England’s total of 337 and their 31-run victory.

Later in the tournament, Roy was dismissed in England’s semi-final against Australia for 85. Replays showed he clearly didn’t hit the ball but his opening partner Jonny Bairstow had already used up England’s review.

Roy stood his ground and verbally abused umpire Kumar Dharmasena who’d made the incorrect decision.

No one’s about to defend Roy’s behaviour (in fact, a lot of people thought he should have been banned for the final), but if there was an effective system that allowed for some umpire reviews or even third umpire intervention it’s likely both these situations involving Roy against India and Australia would have ended up with a more accurate result and happier players, fans and umpires.

Where Roy’s case becomes even more interesting is when we analyse the possible impact his semi-final controversy may have had on England’s World Cup final against New Zealand.

Trent Boult struck Roy on the pads on the first ball of England’s innings in what looked a fairly plumb LBW in real-time. South African umpire Marais Erasmus gave the delivery not out on the field.

How much this decision was influenced by him being the umpire who helped usher Roy off the field in the semi-final no one can know for sure. What we do know is the system that placed him in this situation didn’t help his decision-making at all.

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He made his ultra-conservative call which then ended up remaining as the final decision once New Zealand had reviewed it because less than half the cricket ball (only by about a millimetre) was shown by the review system to be hitting the stumps.

Roy only went on to score 17, but those runs and the 20 balls he survived was enough to prevent New Zealand from getting some tremendous momentum as they defended their modest total of 241.

If the DRS gets a significant revamp, one of the changes most worth trying would be to give umpires more power to review decisions. Some countries played around with giving them more responsibility when technology like ball-tracking and snicko first became available.

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Unfortunately, we haven’t had a period where the umpires have been given more ability to use the great tools available since technology has improved and all stakeholders of the game have become more comfortable with using video reviews.

One of the great benefits of giving more power to the umpires is they might feel more like they are working with technology. Players and fans might get that impression too; currently, that is not the case.

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The current referral system seems to be set up with the intent of disputing umpiring mistakes and even denying that a mistake exists.

Most of us accept umpires will make mistakes as long as they are human so an effective system should help them minimise mistakes and the impact mistakes make on matches.

Another option, if the ICC is set on keeping referrals at just one per innings in one-day matches, is the player referral responsibility could go to the coach.

This would involve its own difficulties regarding the exact process, but at least the coach could ensure he had a great look at each decision in real-time and possibly even get time for one television replay if they extended the time restrictions on referrals out to 20 seconds.

The other obvious solution is giving teams more player reviews, but the ICC seems set on this not happening despite the number of matches where one unsuccessful referral clearly hasn’t allowed for the adequate use of technology.

Whatever happens, something needs to change because the DRS clearly didn’t achieve what it’s capable of the way it was used throughout the 2019 World Cup.