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Opinion

Player concerns a chance to shift DRS power base

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Expert
30th December, 2019
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Tim Paine says its variances and vagaries frustrate him, and Kane Williamson says all the players know the technology will never be 100 per cent accurate.

The players want it used in the Big Bash League and everyone seems to agree it’s just a matter of when. Cricket Australia say that ‘when’ won’t be this season.

The Decision Review System and all the associated technology behind it is never far from discussions and debate, despite the fact it has definitely improved the accuracy of umpiring since it was introduced just over a decade ago.

Since then, camera definition and screen resolution has improved, more angles are available, and significantly more frames per second allow more detailed inspection in still-motion. There’s no doubt the technology in use now is way better than what was first adopted.

Yet the concerns about the system remain, and I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to suggest that it’s never really been in the past – and still isn’t now – completely trusted by players, commentators and fans alike. And maybe even umpires, for all we know.

Tim Paine

Tim Paine of Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Generally speaking, DRS has removed most of the so-called ‘howlers’ that prompted its introduction. But you’ll never even get rid of them all because of two major factors.

The first one being that almost immediately, use of DRS become more about strategy and hope than it did about accuracy of decisions. Australia’s use of DRS got so bad during The Ashes series in England that a Federal Government specialist in control systems from Canberra got in touch with Justin Langer to show how he could improve the team’s use of DRS.

And Langer was so impressed that he invited Dr Obaid Rehman – quickly dubbed the ‘DRS Doctor’ – to address the team while they were in Canberra back in early November. And with due respect, Dr Rehman’s advice to the Australian team was pretty bloody obvious.

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Forget the emotional thoughts around whether a ball was out or not out, he said, and instead ask why it wasn’t given out. Players being trained on how to read trajectory is pretty involved, but the idea that slip fielders shouldn’t be involved in discussions around LBW decision is just common sense.

“But nobody was using that common sense,” Dr Rehman told News Limited’s Ben Horne back before Christmas.

And in fairness, the Australians do seem to be using the review system much better this summer. But the frustrations remain.

Jhye Richardson

Jhye Richardson (centre) of Australia appeals (AAP Image/Darren England)

“I’ve got a few doubts – no doubt about that,” Paine told ABC Grandstand during the Boxing Day Test.

“I won’t go into it too far because I’ll get in trouble. I’m just seeing time and time again what I see to the naked eye, or watching it on television in real time, and then what it comes up as, is sometimes a little bit off the mark.”

Paine said post-match he wasn’t too interested in taking up the offer of the company behind the ball-tracking software to check it out and learn more about it, which is an interesting position for the Australian Captain to take, especially after hearing former opener Ed Cowan explain in a Test review podcast for the ABC that spending 90 minutes in the truck during a Test he wasn’t playing in several years ago was the main reason he is comfortable with the way the technology works.

And especially after poor use of DRS led to burning reviews too early too often during The Ashes, which in turn is why some genuine howlers – none more so than Nathan Lyon trapping Ben Stokes plumb in front at Headingley – had to be left to stand.

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The other major factor is the human element. Aleem Dar managed to turn a regulation caught behind appeal off Mitchell Santner in Melbourne into a howler when he either couldn’t or didn’t see what in the end was fairly obvious contact with the wristband on the Black Caps spinner’s glove on the way through to Paine.

Thankfully, DRS was able to overturn what was a terrible LBW decision against Tom Blundell, a delivery which stuck the Black Fern on Blundell’s trouser pocket, and which the ball-tracking generously suggested was clearing the bails by only four inches. I still don’t know what Nigel Llong thought he saw.

Players this season have again called for DRS to be used in the BBL, and though Cricket Australia were quick to knock that on its head, it still feels like an inevitable inclusion.

But here’s a challenge for the powers that be.

If Cricket Australia really wanted to be innovative about bringing the technology into the BBL, then maybe they should get serious about trialling something that I know I’m not alone in long calling for: putting the technology in the hands of the umpires.

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That is, no decision reviews by the players; simply, the two umpires on-field working with the third umpire to reach the right decision at the point of appeal.

If we truly want to be innovative and make the game better, how about letting the technology work for the positive, rather than allow players the opportunity to prove umpires wrong?

Five years we were told about an ICC trial of a real-time Officiating Replay System (ORS), a system that streamlined the decision process using technology, yet nothing more has come of it. So it maybe it’s time to see if the existing technology can be used to make the game better.

I’m as convinced as ever that it would.

It wouldn’t stop the human error that allowed Mitchell Santner’s reprieve, that’s certainly true. And it would unfortunately put ‘Dr DRS’ out of work, because all players will need to know what to do is appeal.

But it would absolutely eradicate scenarios like the Stokes LBW at Headingley and so many others like it that have to remain simply because a team has no reviews left. Deliveries that clearly produce a wicket should be credited with that wicket.

In its current form, and used the way it’s currently laid out, I’m not sure DRS can get any better than it is now.

But improvements in umpiring could still be found by simply handing the technology back to the umpires, who really should’ve just had it to begin with.

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