The ongoing Ashes series, although far from complete, may have lacked the excitement of previous editions, but there has been no shortage of talking points.
The fall of Australian cricket, the controversies the team has faced in the form of certain ‘cancerous’ players, England’s predicted rise to the summit of Test rankings, the James Anderson renaissance, among other things, have been discussed and dissected to no end by cricket fans and ‘experts’ alike.
However, this series will be remembered for something entirely different – the failure of the Decision Review System (DRS).
The anti-DRS brigade must have been rubbing their hands in glee after Chris Rogers, batting on 16, was saved on the 2nd day of the ongoing 4th Ashes Test in Durham, as the faults and chinks of DRS were brought to the forefront once again. Originally given out for a caught behind decision, Rogers asked for a review as he was sure the ball had not hit his bat.
And he was right. The ball did not hit his bat, but was going on to hit the top of off-stump as was evident by the Hawk Eye replays. It was a clear LBW decision that should have resulted in the batsman walking back to the pavilion. But due to some bizarre decision-making which ensued in much controversy, the 35-year-old was given a second chance, and he made full use of it as he scored an unbeaten 101 to give Australia a real chance of winning the Test. And once again, it was the system that was blamed.
DRS has been no stranger to controversies ever since its first testing in 2008, and its subsequent launch in 2009. The BCCI has been one of the biggest critics of this system ever since its inception, especially after that infamous Ian Bell LBW decision. It is not reliable, they said. It should either be perfect or should be disbanded completely, they added.
Thanks to the clout they enjoy, the BCCI ensured that no match played in India (barring ICC tournaments) would make use of DRS until it was completely fool-proof.
And now, the rest of the world is slowly but surely starting to agree. Almost every Test of the Ashes so far has had at least one instance that proved that the system was far from perfect. Whether it was the decision that gave Rogers a reprieve or the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen in the third Test, where Hot Spot did not show up, DRS has been in the news for the wrong reasons all throughout the series.
Admittedly, the system isn’t perfect. Improvements need to be made, and they need to be made quickly. But is discontinuing the use of DRS really such a good idea? I don’t think so.
While everyone has been ranting about how ineffective the system is, the number of times it has overturned incorrect decisions has been swept under the carpet. Umpires, as skilled and experienced as they may be, are human beings at the end of the day. They are prone to making errors, rather shocking ones at times.
Without DRS, a decision that is clearly wrong would be the final call and the batsman or bowler who has been wronged will not have any way of correcting it. And it is for this exact scenario that the system proves its value – to ensure that shocking decisions do not affect the result of a match.
Moreover, there has been no clarity regarding the use of DRS. I don’t think even the umpires understand the system completely. Is that the system’s fault or the umpires’?
Talking about umpires’ role, take for example the decision that went against Usman Khawaja in the first innings of the third Test. If I, an average cricket fan, could clearly see that there was no edge, shouldn’t an elite umpire like Kumara Dharmasena be able to see it too? Why was he not held accountable at all? I could point to several other similar instances where the umpire was at fault, but on all those occasions, the system was blamed instead.
So, you see, the problem isn’t the system itself, but with the people. It is clear that half-measures have been taken while implementing DRS, and that leaves a lot of room for error, human error.
There needs to be consistency in the system. When a decision is referred to the third umpire, the onus of the decision should lie solely on him. In the case of any doubt, he should be able to give the benefit of the doubt to whichever side he seems fit instead of simply agreeing with the on-field umpire’s call – a decision that was controversial to begin with. That is the job he is being paid to do, and he should take some responsibility for his actions rather than blaming the system, which is the easiest cop-out for anyone who has made an error.
Additionally, third umpires need to be trained properly in the use of DRS. They should be assessed after every decision, and should have to face consequences for their poor calls. A system can be successful only if the people handling it are competent, which doesn’t seem to be the case as of now.
We don’t realise it after so many years now, but the game of cricket has some extremely strange and complicated rules. There will always be marginal calls and decisions that could have gone in either side’s favour, but these are the glorious uncertainties of the game we love, and it is something we will have to deal with, at least for the time being.
However, there is a huge scope of improvement. The system is certainly not perfect and the issues need to be addressed as soon as possible. But this does not mean the use of DRS should be discontinued altogether.
Cricket has been evolving and growing at massive rate over the last decade and continues to do so. The use of technology has only improved the game, and despite all its flaws, the DRS has done more good than harm. So, if the ICC does decide to stop the use of DRS, the game will be pushed back by at least ten years, if not more.
At the end of the day, cricket will be the real loser.