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It’s time to overhaul the DRS

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Roar Guru
2nd August, 2019
6

I can still remember the concern DRS raised when it was initially gaining momentum for introduction.

The first concern was the accuracy of ball tracking. This caused the Indian team to refuse its use for a long time before eventually getting on board. The second concern was the long-held cricketing tradition of respecting the umpire’s decision.

Day 1 of the First Ashes Test at Edgebaston has again highlighted the need to overhaul of DRS.

Ever since Jesus opened for the Jerusalem under 13s there’s been a sporting respect of the umpire’s decision, and certainly cricketing law backs that up. Even the most minor remonstration with an umpire can result in quite hefty sanctions applied to any cricketer who oversteps the line.

That all changed in the modern era with technology improving, the professionalisation of the game and the huge sums of money on offer to players through contracts and sponsorship, and that all probably pales in comparison to the billions wagered on games every year. And we mustn’t forget the reason neutral umpires are currently required for all matches, a rule currently being questioned, when we consider the threat of match-fixing, to which cricket is no stranger.

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This brings me back to the current DRS system. The system was first trialled in 2008 in a Test between India and Sri Lanka and was then introduced by the ICC in November 2009. It was introduced to remove the howler from the game. We knew back then what we know now. Umpires are human and they make mistakes.

An ESPNcrincinfo analysis of more than 2100 player reviews between September 2009 and March 2017 found the following:

  • 26 per cent of player reviews resulted in on-field decisions being overturned.
  • 41 per cent of reviews were by batting teams and 59 per cent by bowling teams.
  • Batsmen-initiated reviews were more likely to be successful, with a 34 per cent success rate, compared to a success rate of about 20 per cent for bowling teams.
  • 74 per cent of referrals were for LBW, 18 per cent for wicketkeeper catches and the rest were for catches elsewhere or indeterminate reason. The success rate was only 22 per cent for LBW, compared to 40 per cent for wicketkeeper catches.
  • There were on average about 1.4 batting overturns and 1.2 bowling overturns per match. Initial fears that DRS would bring an increase in the number of dismissals have, therefore, not come true.

Two of the above statistics are alarming. Firstly, that 26 per cent of player reviews resulted in decisions being overturned. On first glance that would suggest that roughly a quarter of contentious decisions go against the Umpire, but that doesn’t take into account the decisions made by players not to review a decision, which would not be included here.

Australian captain Steve Smith gestures with umpires

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

On Day 1 of this year’s Ashes series at Edgebaston, twice Australians chose not to review out decisions only for replays to clearly show that the LBW wasn’t even really close. Just in the first innings there were seven decisions reviewed or not reviewed that showed the umpire got it wrong. In the end there were five LBWs that ended up on the score sheet.

On Day 1 I was delighted to turn on the telly to see David Warner batting well outside of his crease. I wrote an article for The Roar last Ashes tour of England wondering why more Australian bats weren’t doing the same. In my mind it goes a long way to cutting down the length of English bowlers looking to hoop the ball around. By asking them to bowl slightly shorter to avoid giving a batsman a half volley, it gives the ball less time to feel the aerodynamic effects that create swing. That’s if a batsman is comfortable dealing with the bowler’s pace.

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Secondly, it largely takes LBW out of the equation, as the angles required to get an LBW through hitting in line and going onto the stumps become far more difficult both laterally and through the pitch of the ball basically needing to be a half volley when it hits the pad for the trajectory of the ball to not be going over the top of the stumps.

The remonstration I was giving the umpire through the magic of the TV as soon as his finger went up would have seen me removed from most stadiums in the world. While less of a howler, James Pattinson’s decision was also very poor. Mark Waugh described the umpiring through a tweet as “Village”.

The second alarming statistic is that 74 per cent of referrals were for LBW decisions and 22 per cent were successful.

LBW is by far the most contentious mode of dismissal in the game. Ask most batsmen what mode they hate getting out to the most and the reply will be LBW. There’s always that doubt in the back of the mind wondering how good the judgement of the umpire is. As we’ve seen in this Test and countless others as well as ODIs and T20s before it, the clear answer is that even at the elite level umpires are unable to adjudicate LBW consistently or reliably.

Before offering a solution I’ll ask this: do you think that 22 per cent of LBW referrals showing the umpire got it wrong is good enough in this day and age where technology can tell us almost for sure?

Consider also that decisions not referred make that figure much higher and that we had a long period of a walking LBW in Shane Watson referring everything that was plumb, padding out the figures in favour of the umpires.

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The solution is for all formats of cricket to be reduced to a single captain or batsman’s review per innings. But from there, all close LBW decisions will be referred to the DRS by the umpire. On-field umpires at the top echelons will no longer have control over LBW decisions.

I’ll concede straight up that ball tracking isn’t absolute. A quick YouTube search will show you a number of times a highly unlikely ball track was predicted by Hawk-Eye. Because of this, all LBW referrals by on-field umpires will go to the third umpire for review by DRS with the same conditions as if currently an umpire gave it not out and the bowling captain referred it. That would mean all LBW ‘out’ decisions will come after ball tracking showed at least 50 per cent of a ball hitting the wickets on a horizontal or vertical plane.

I think this overhaul would see a number of things improve. Firstly, the instances of controversy over a batsman being out to a dodgy LBW decision would effectively be reduced to zero. No longer would we be worrying about how many a batsman could have made turning the result of a match. Or for that matter how many they did make after being given not out while plumb LBW.

Secondly, umpires no longer would have to focus on where the ball pitches. This would not only allow them to actually return to watching the bowler’s front foot for no-balls. From that point their focus would be just on where the ball meets the bat, pad or glove. I predict this would also improve the number of times an umpire gets it wrong (or is even referred) on edges through to the keeper or, in Stuart Broad’s case, first slip.

Under this system change we could see whole Tests going on without a captain or batsman’s referral even being used, let alone the successful 2.6 batting and bowling referrals per match we currently see on average. No longer would we be having the conversation about how well a team tactically used their reviews. No longer would a batsman have to worry about possibly burning a review that his teammates down the order may need for an LBW decision he’s concerned about.

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That would and should be taken out of both the batsman’s and on-field umpires hands when it comes to LBW.

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