Cricket and Technology – Is DRS still the future?
Technology and Cricket have not had the best of associations in recent times. Problems and errors with the Decision Review System (DRS) came into the spotlight yet again after a controversial decision in the second T20 International between New Zealand and India on February 8, 2019.
The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) or simply DRS is a technology-based system used in cricket matches, that is meant to assist the on-field umpires in making decisions. Under DRS, an umpire can ask the third umpire (or TV umpire) to review a decision, players too can ask for a review of the decision, if they are dissatisfied with the decision of the on-field umpire.
Indian all-rounder Krunal Pandya trapped New Zealand’s Daryl Mitchell, Leg Before Wicket (LBW) upfront and umpire Chris Brown immediately raised his finger. Mitchell consulted his skipper Kane Williamson at the other end and asked for a prompt review. Initial replays showed that it was plumb (a term used when a batsman is caught right in front of the wickets). Once ‘hotspot’ was used, a mark was visible on the bat, but on using the ‘snickometer’ there was no spike on the graph as the ball went past the bat.
To everyone’s surprise, instead of going back to the on-field umpire, third umpire Shaun Haig went ahead with ball tracking and it was all red. After going through ball tracking, word was conveyed to the on-field umpire and he raised his finger. Williamson looked in disbelief, so did Mitchell, who in displeasure had to leave the field.
Troubles with DRS do not end just here, a few weeks back, before the above incident, another controversy erupted in the pink ball test match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Brisbane on January 24.
Sri Lankan batsman Lahiru Thirimanne, who was looking solid and set on 32 on the first day of play, looked to defend a full ball from Pat Cummins – which moved slightly away from the off stump causing Thirimanne to edge the ball, which was caught by wicketkeeper Tim Paine who promptly appealed for a catch. South African umpire Marais Erasmus indicated that it was out. Thirimanne instantly took the DRS and there was no edge seen on hotspot. However, there was a small spike on the ‘snicko’ after the ball had passed the bat.
The Third Empire asked the on-field umpire to stay with his decision and the left-hander’s innings came to an end. This decision sparked a lot of debate and Former Australia opening batsman Simon Katich admitted that the decision had stumped him.
The two cases above showed a sort of an antithetical discourse, with Hot Spot and snickometer technologies differing from each other. Two technologies meant for the same purpose thus showing two different results.
Hot Spot technology uses two Infra-Red (IR) cameras positioned at either end of the ground which sense a rise in temperature when the ball brushes the bat. Using a subtraction technique, a series of black-and-white negative frames are generated into a computer, precisely localising the point of contact of the ball. But this system has some loopholes, players in order to evade detection on IR cameras have started using bats with silicone tapes, as silicon is a bad conductor of heat, and will show no mark on hot spot even if there is an edge.
The snickometer on the other hand, uses a highly sensitive microphone on the stumps to record the faintest of edges. During a review, if the mic catches a sound which has a wavelength similar to the most typical sound of an edge, then the batsman is given marching orders. An issue with the snickometer is that – the system often catches sounds of the bat hitting the pads or the ground, which may result in wrong decisions.
These loopholes have questioned the reliability of hotspot and snickometer in the whole system which is perhaps heavily boasted by the International Cricket Council (ICC), as the only way to improve efficiency in umpiring.
The third umpire system was first used in 1992 in a test match between South Africa and India, and was aimed at reducing human error and improving umpiring decisions. Although ICC claims that the performance of umpires has increased to 98% correct decisions (from the previous 95%), there have been some strange decisions and mistakes made by third umpires in recent matches. Experts suggest that it is the ‘soft signals’ made by the on-field umpires that do not give the TV umpires complete independence in decision making, thus leading to such errors, despite the existence of various forms of technology.
In contrast with the above argument, the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy (India’s elite domestic cricket competition) saw a decrease in the overall quality of the competition. Below par pitches and umpiring howlers were some of the issues that emerged out of this year’s edition.
Umpiring decisions in this year’s Ranji Trophy have come under severe criticism after a lot of wrong and embarrassing verdicts were made during the matches. One decision which baffled the audience and which might have changed the course of the particular match involved Indian test batsman Cheteshwar Pujara.
Pujara, playing for Saurashtra in the semi-finals against Karnataka, refused to walk back to the pavilion after clearly edging the ball. While some called Pujara a cheater for not walking away, others made calls for having the standard of umpiring improved. Many fans have urged the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to introduce DRS in the domestic circuit and improve the umpiring standards.
Introduction of DRS in a tournament as lengthy as the Ranji Trophy is not simple. It would prove to be expensive and would require various high-tech equipment. And with few matches telecasted live it wouldn’t be a sustainable decision.
DRS was introduced to reduce errors by the umpires but instead, has become rather confusing and more prone to errors. On the other hand, DRS has been highly requested in domestic cricket to remove umpiring errors. Umpires now rely heavily on technology, while this helps bring transparency in the game – rules governing these procedures are faulty and confusing. The rule book is incomplete for all DRS scenarios like the ones mentioned above.
It is an important time for the ICC to discuss this issue as the 2019 World Cup is just around the corner. Such mistakes or errors may have certain unfavourable repercussions, that may deal a death blow to teams, and even cost them a World Cup.
Featured Image Courtesy: ICC Cricket
Edited by: Tarush Dhume