x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

No failures with the Decision Review System

Osman Samiuddin says DRS helps umpires make the right decisions besides enhancing the entertainment value of the game itself.

Limiting the power umpires seem to have is not a bad idea, according to our columnist.
Limiting the power umpires seem to have is not a bad idea, according to our columnist.

I am a fan of the Decision Review System (DRS). I enjoy, as writer and viewer, the spectacle of a referral and the opportunity it gives to burrow myself deeper inside an appeal or dismissal; cricket encourages you to enjoy and savour detail.

Unrelated, many times replays bring a pleasant discovery when you least expect it, something in the batsman's movement, a little whip of the wrist of a bowler, a degree of deviation, a puff of dust, the little things that sustain a game. But mostly I like it because it strips away a little of the aura of the umpire (even if this is an inadvertent by-product of assisting them).

In cricket there has traditionally been no entity as precious as the umpire. Over the years they have become more than just men who make decisions about a game on the field of play. They've assumed - and been gladly given – guardianship of a bogus morality on the field, maintaining an unspoken code of conduct and ethics that died when Queen Victoria did, if it ever even existed at all.

If only they were simply revered; so white is their whiteness, so pure, that the game has gone beyond reverence and settled into some kind of subservience to them.

The umpire must never be questioned, he must never be shown any dissent. If a batsman he has given out incorrectly so much as raises a bat to him to indicate an inside edge, or stands for a second or three longer looking astonished, it isn't just a breach of a code of conduct punishable by fines and bans - itself over the top – but a moral failing of character.

Like a new Rolling Stones album, cricket tries hard to look modern but remains tightly corseted by conservatism, conventionalism and traditionalism.

As a state of affairs, this is plainly rubbish, as even history should tell us. Umpires are human beings, no better, no more important, no less flawed than players, coaches, administrators and fans. It was their failings, remember, that brought us to neutral umpires. Umpires from around the world and not just the subcontinent increasingly brought their biases to the game with them.

Since neutrality's blanket has been wrapped around them, bias has gone but in too many cases replaced by other distortions of power; Darrell Hair's righteousness and pomposity, Steve Bucknor's cussedness towards the end, the inflated self-regard of men such as Daryl Harper and Billy Bowden, at odds with the consistency of their decision-making. Some, like Asoka de Silva and Billy Doctrove, don't seem to exist for any obvious reason at all, rather like the human appendix.

Of course the system isn't perfect, but we speak of perfection as if it is an easily attainable state. It is not, because nothing is.

In any case, humans love the idea of perfection rather than perfection itself; we strive for it precisely because it is unobtainable (though you wouldn't know this going by some of the incredibly pedantic debate on the mechanics and accuracy of the technology being used).

But if it at least reduces the number of really bad decisions, holds umpires to a greater degree of accountability (and as a bonus is entertaining viewing) then what is so wrong with it?

What it is, is that the Board of Control or Cricket in India (BCCI) is opposed to it, so whatever hope for rationality there was in the debate has long bolted. Their objections to it, oblique as they remain, are not the problem for they are entitled to them.

The problem is the way they have bullied member boards behind the scenes - at the risk of damaging lucrative bilateral ties - into making DRS implementation non-mandatory.

And in that, the bullied are as culpable for allowing it to happen. It is not up to that much-imagined but non-existent, independent decision-making supra-ICC body to enforce DRS. It is up to individual member boards.

Criticism at the absence of DRS during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne against India was predictably aimed at the BCCI and yet, until now, no one seems to have asked Cricket Australia about what their stance is on it and why they didn't try to convince the BCCI to use it in this series.

So there is now a situation where DRS is employed in some series with some tools, some with all and absent altogether in some. This, cricket now feels, is a huge problem though why, it is not entirely clear.

There is concern about how the game cannot have different rules for different series, an argument ignorant of three separate formats and three separate playing conditions; players and umpires surely can get used to playing with and without DRS. That has been the way since DRS was first trialled in 2008 and, here's a shock: cricket hasn't died, it hasn't been irreparably damaged. It has actually rolled along just fine.

Where is the problem in boards that want to use the DRS doing so and those not wanting it, not doing so? And for those boards who want to use the DRS but feel it is too prohibitive a cost, a way forward has been shown (and this is a shock) by the Pakistan Cricket Board. They've not bothered with the debate and instead simply gotten its implementation sponsored by the corporate sector for their winter assignments with Sri Lanka and England.