x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Like it or not, cricket technology is taking centre stage at the Ashes

The Decision Review System is needed but the framework for its employment needs an overhaul.

David Warner, the Australia batsman, was deemed not out by the third umpire on Sunday, leaving the England players puzzled. Stu Forster / Getty Images
David Warner, the Australia batsman, was deemed not out by the third umpire on Sunday, leaving the England players puzzled. Stu Forster / Getty Images
For as long as it suited certain people, the Decision Review System (DRS) was some sort of knight in shining armour, ignored only by the evil empire that was the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Now though, you hear very different tunes.
The ongoing Ashes series has seen one umpiring controversy after another, most of them the result of what can charitably be described as flawed interpretation of the evidence available.
After Usman Khawaja had been wrongly given out caught behind at Old Trafford - a poor on-field decision that the third umpire didn't overturn despite no indication whatsoever of an outside edge - Gideon Haigh, one of the most perceptive writers on the sport, commented in The Australian: "The DRS" had another of those days when it looks like your grandma trying to make a call on a smartphone and accidentally downloading a snuff movie.
"Khawaja, a young man fighting for his career, was a victim; Steve Smith, ditto, was a beneficiary. Australia came out ahead, but the game overall was the loser, for cricket's continuing officiation crisis overshadowed a stoic, battling hundred from Michael Clarke."
Later in Australia's innings, you had the farcical situation of David Warner referring a caught behind, when the edge could be seen and heard from the boundary rope. Despite knowing that Warner was a goner, Clarke let him waste a referral. On another day, such misplaced generosity could have cost Australia dear.
Third umpires not reversing poor on-field calls is but one side of the story. There is also plenty of unease about the actual technology used. When the BCCI questioned the veracity of the ball-tracking used in Hawk-Eye, they were dismissed as Luddites with vested interests. But plenty of concerns remain about the predictive element used to make decisions after impact with a batsman's pad.
Then there is HotSpot, which has come under intense scrutiny after failing to show thin edges at several times during the current series. Warren Brennan, its inventor, conceded recently that the technology was less than perfect when it came to picking up thin edges off pace bowling.
"Even with our latest-generation HotSpot cameras, there are still occasions when HotSpot will miss fine edges," Brennan told The Daily Telegraph. "At Lord's, there were half a dozen very fine edges and I believe that HotSpot only missed the [Ashton] Agar one.
"What we are finding with HotSpot is that it is much better on spin bowling. The reason for that is because the ball is rotating and turning so much more than from a fast bowler, so when it makes contact with the bat it grips, turns and creates more friction, showing up better on HotSpot."
The deficiencies in the technology presents cricket with something of a chicken-and-egg situation. Without being tested at the highest level, the flaws will not become evident. But for teams that fall foul of such technological glitches, such big-picture sentiments will matter little. The BCCI speaks of a Utopian future where they will embrace perfect technology. That state will not be reached without the current trials and tribulations.
One of the main reasons why the DRS is not a factor in each and every match is the reluctance of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to bankroll the exercise. For now, the host boards and the broadcasters that pay for the TV rights pick up the tab, and it is a hefty one. As rich as they are, the BCCI has shown no inclination to accept the technology. So you have a situation where the Ashes features DRS, while both England and Australia toured India without recourse to the technology.
It is easy enough to understand the thinking of the India board. When boards like Zimbabwe's can barely pay players enough for them to be able to afford hotel meals, it is obvious that they and many other boards cannot afford to pay for DRS. Without the recently concluded Indian ODI tour, Zimbabwe cricket might have sunk under the weight of its debt. To expect boards like that to pay for DRS is to expect a beggar to invest in a tuxedo.
There is a place for DRS in the game's future, but with clear instructions given to third umpires to correct blatant on-field mistakes. The technology also needs to improve. Its inventors toning down the hype would be a start. Most of all, though, the ICC needs to find an entity that pays for it all. Given the wealth and array of sponsors at the organisation's disposal, that should not be difficult.
What cricket requires is for needless controversy to stop sullying on-field excellence.
As Haigh wrote in his column: "When I go to a Test match, I go to watch the cricket, I don't go to an exhibition of umpiring technology.
"I have found it tedious and obtrusive and that is a worry to me. When cricket simply becomes an exhibition of technological jiggery-pokery, then we are in the danger of putting the cart before the horse."
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