Umpiring was back in the spotlight at Manuka Oval last night as the Sydney Thunder picked up their second win on the trot, over the Perth Scorchers, but it’s high time the BBL got serious about introducing the decision review system (DRS).
The DRS, a staple of the international game, would have meant the correct decision was made when Usman Khawaja smacked one off the edge through to Josh Inglis behind the stumps.
It would have meant that, instead of remonstrating with the umpire, Andrew Tye would have asked for a review and the correct outcome would have been achieved.
I’ll always support umpiring. It’s an incredibly tough job. But that decision wasn’t the first howler in BBL history, and it certainly won’t be the last.
This was originally going to be a column about how the Sydney Thunder can win this year’s tournament with a fairly unheralded squad. About how strange things are with bubbles and the Perth Scorchers not doing Perth Scorcher things (you know, being successful).
It was going to be about the Thunder’s debutant, Ollie Davies, who could well be playing for Australia in a matter of years. I was supposed to talk about how solid Callum Ferguson looked.
But it isn’t going to be that.
It’s going to be about the umpiring.
As mentioned at the start, I’ll always back an umpire 100 per cent. It is one of the toughest job in sport and until you’ve tried it in a proper game (I don’t mean umpiring your drunk mates in the backyard either), I’d suggest you don’t really know enough about the craft to pass judgement.
My respect for umpires grew enormously once I gave it a crack myself and continues to grow each time I walk on-field.
But decisions like last night’s prove it’s time for the BBL to get on the same page as other top T20 leagues around the world, and international cricket, by introducing the DRS.
Because umpiring cricket is one of the toughest jobs in world sport, mistakes are going to be made.
Umpires are human beings. That, more than anything else, was evident when Khawaja hit the cover off it, but was adjudged not out.
It brought back memories of Stuart Broad’s famous snick to first slip in the Ashes, all those years ago, before failing to walk.
It doesn’t matter what level of cricket it is, mistakes are going to be made. It’s hard enough to get the obvious ones right, let alone the ones where it’s 50-50, as we see in every game around the world.
Sure, it’s a bit easier once it’s slowed down with ball tracking and you can have a hundred looks at it, but the umpire on-field gets one look, in real time. He can’t ask for time to replay it over in his head. He gets one shot.
Umpires will get it right more often than not – that comes with being at the top of the Australian panel. There are some very, very good umpires at the top of Aussie cricket, many banging on the door of international selection.
But it is impossible to get every single decision right and that’s where the decision review system comes in.
In T20 cricket, it should be a single review per team for the innings, used to get rid of the howler decision. That was the intent of the DRS when the ICC originally approved its use.
While captains are more than happy to take a punt in Test cricket (particularly now with three reviews per innings), one review in a T20 innings will mean skippers don’t gamble until the final overs.
And yes, there is the threat of DRS slowing the game down, but at one review per innings, it’ll be a novelty rather than a regular occurrence, and the pace of play shouldn’t be impacted.
Of course there are drawbacks, mainly relating to cost, but if the broadcasters and Cricket Australia want the most professional product possible to appeal to the rusted-on cricket fans, who appear to be turning away from the BBL, cutting out mistakes is critical.
Last night’s decision didn’t change the result, but on another day it might have, and that should be more than enough to think about next year’s innovation being the DRS, rather than messing with playing conditions and rules of the tournament – as was the case this season.
The Sydney Thunder might just keep rolling along, with Davies, Khawaja and captain Ferguson dreaming of upstaging the bigger teams, but without DRS, an elimination game might just be decided by an incorrect decision.