The last week of 2010 saw two interesting Test matches being played. Both of these ended in amazing results — for England and for India. England retained the Ashes with a stunning victory at the MCG and India, with a win in Durban, seemed to take a significant step towards establishing — yet again! — that they travel well these days.
But the two matches made news for another reason: The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS).
Ricky Ponting made a mess of himself on field by arguing with umpire Aleem Dar after a UDRS decision had gone against his team! As I stated in my earlier post, in my view, if Ricky’s surname was not Ponting, but either Singh or Kumar or Khan, he would have been suspended for his totally over-the-top antics at the MCG. The over-tolerant Aleem Dar ought to have showed Ricky Ponting a red card for carrying on like a pork chop! After the over-the-top carry-on, the match referee slapped a mere fine on Ponting! Once again, we saw extreme incompetence — if not impotence — of the match referees in dealing with situations involving players from the “traditional powers” of cricket (read: Anglo-Saxon nations).
Ricky Ponting had a problem or two against the UDRS and chose a rather public and unacceptable way to demonstrate his disagreements with it.
Across the Indian Ocean and away from the MCG, Graeme Smith made a point about the UDRS to the International Cricket Council (ICC) in his post-loss press-conference. After being at the receiving end of bad decisons at crucial points in South Africa’s attempt to overhaul a victory target of 303, and without the benefit of the UDRS to fall back on, Smith complained about ICC’s inconsistency in its approach to the application of the UDRS.
Graeme Smith does have a point. The UDRS needs to be uniformly implemented. As per the current implementation of the UDRS, the host country must decide on the use of the UDRS in consultation with the visiting country. Although, South Africa was in favor of implementing the UDRS, and although South Africa could have insisted on the use of the UDRS, the UDRS was not implemented in the RSA-India series. One assumes that the BCCI, the Indian Board, which does not like the UDRS, used its financial power to muscle the UDRS out of the RSA-India Test series. Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni are not fans of the UDRS as it is implemented.
India’s only experiment with the UDRS was a bitter experience against Sri Lanka in 2008 — the team got most referral decisions wrong. The players developed a sense of extreme mistrust with the system and treated it like a hot potato. Since then, India has not used the UDRS in series in which it plays host (its prerogative) and has used its power to ensure that the UDRS has not been used in series against Sri Lanka and, now, South Africa.
In my view, a limited version of the UDRS should be uniformly employed in all series. Further, his decision should not be left to the host country or the visitors. Just as 2 on-field umpires, a match referee, a 3rd umpire and a reserve umpire are mandatory in all Test matches, the ICC should make a limited version of the UDRS compulsory for all Test matches.
So what should this new-UDRS include?
From an umpires’ point of view, the ICC should enable them to focus only the big issues. Umpires should not need to focus on things like counting balls, run outs and no-balls. Umpires already refer run-outs. The 3rd umpire should rule on no-balls and should whisper in the umpires ear to call the end of an over. These decisions should be taken away from the on-field umpires. These somewhat straight-forward decisions can and must be technology-driven and technology-assisted.
This then brings into focus “nicks” and whether a ball pitched in line in LBW decisions.
I believe “hot spot” should be used in all matches. In my view, the two dimensional technology that is used to project height, swing, spin and movement is just not believable nor trustworthy! The ICC should choose a version of UDRS (of the many that exist) and employ it for all matches.
All “nicks” (whether for detecting inside-edges in LBW decisions or for caught behind appeals) should be referred to the 3rd umpire if the on-field umpire wants seek the assistance of technology in deciding. It should be the on-field umpires’ prerogative to seek the referral. Just as it works for run outs currently, the on-field umpire will seek out technology when needed. The “hot spot” technology does work effectively and is utterly believable, in my view. The “Snickometer” technology which is also error-free takes too long to spit out results — and the game cannot be stalled for such long periods of time.
Further, the UDRS should also employ one of the many systems that can be used to detect whether a ball pitched “in line” for LBW decisions. Technology in this area is believable and accurate.
With all of the above modifications, the umpires can then save their focus on trajectory, discipline on the ground, ball changes and other such decisions; decisions that requires their judgement to be applied. The problem is then with interpretation and errors in these areas alone. One doesn’t need judgement and interpretation of whether the ball pitched in line or whether it is a no ball. A machine can predict that accurately regardless of the type of technology that’s used.
So what would a new-UDRS mean?
- The 3rd umpire counts balls and informs the on-field umpire when it is the end of the over
- Run outs are referred to the 3rd umpire when needed (as now).
- Clear cases of no-balls are automatically called on the field. In borderline cases, the 3rd umpire whispers in the ear of the on-field umpire. An alternative would be to use a “cyclops” type machine to yell “NO” on the ground.
- The 3rd umpire is called upon to use “hot spot” to detect “edges” in caught-behind, LBW and bat-pad catch appeals. The on-field umpire must request the 3rd umpire to adjudicate in these cases.
- The 3rd umpires’ assistance should also be used in deciding whether the ball
pitchedimpacted in line (off-stump) or pitched in line (leg-stump) in LBW appeals. Again, the on-field umpire must request the 3rd umpire to adjudicate in these cases.
And that is about all that the new-UDRS should include. The on-field umpires can then save their focus on things that need their judgement (trajectory, bounce, etc).
With these modifications I believe we will have a UDRS that is more acceptable; and one that is more widely used.
It is time for the ICC to step in and take real control of the game. At the moment, it continues to dither on most important issues affecting the game.