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Fixing the much-debated Decision Review System

An opinion on how a simple tweak can fix the DRS.

BCCI DRS
The BCCI has always been against the use of DRS

The T20 season is over and we are all geared up for some much-awaited dose of test cricket, which has already started with the England-Sri Lanka test series. For Indian test cricket fans too, the next 18 months will provide lots of action as our team prepares for some grilling test match action, both home and away, in this period.

But when it’s about India and test cricket, there’s one thing that separates us from other teams – The use of DRS, the “Decision Review System”. India’s cricket board, the BCCI, has always been against its use and the sole reason that is always been given for the same is that it's not fool-proof.

Are they right or wrong? Well, I’d say it's a mix of both.

They are right in saying that a technology on which the entire decision making depends in the DRS, the Hawk-eye, can't possibly "predict" the exact trajectory of the ball. There is guess work involved, and hence, it can't be trusted.

But is this an issue that can't be fixed? And quite easily at that?

Let's see the tools on which a decision-making process is based in DRS:

- The Snickometer

- The Hotspot

- The guide on the pitch to tell where the ball has pitched

- The Hawkeye

Now let's analyze how they work:

The Snickometer: It gives a spike on a screen when the ball makes contact with bat/pad/anything, so it can be seen clearly if the ball hits the bat/pad/anything or goes untouched.

The Hotspot: It shows a faint/prominent spot on the point where the ball touches; be it the bat or pad or any other body part, and has been deemed to be fairly accurate as even the minutest contact the ball makes with anything is detected here.

The guide on the pitch: It draws a strip on the pitch by joining the stumps at both ends and gives a visual representation of the area wherein the ball must/must not pitch, to judge LBW decisions.

The Hawkeye: It tells an ‘estimated’ path of the ball from the point of impact at the batsman to the stumps, taking into consideration the height at which the ball hit the batsman and the ball's speed.

As we can see from these 4 factors above, the only thing that is dicey in the process of decision making is the Hawkeye as it gives an estimated output; hence, BCCI's concern. But this can be resolved by a very simple change to the DRS - Just remove the Hawkeye from it!

Let's see how DRS will change if this is done:

decision review system

Cricket, since it started, has run on the principle that when it comes to an LBW decision, it's the on-field umpire's decision that is final and he only gives the batsman out LBW if he is 100% sure that:

- The batsman was hit in line with the stumps and not outside off stump (assuming he was attempting to play a stroke).

- The ball had not pitched outside the leg stump.

- There was no bat involved before the ball hit the pads.

- The ball would go on to hit the stumps.

If the umpire is not sure about any of these 4 points, he is supposed to rule in favor of the batsman and not the bowler. Isn't he?

So, the question is: If an umpire gives a batsman not out on an LBW appeal, why must the decision be challenged at all? He gave it not out as he isn't a 100% sure on one or more of the points written above. Now, see this:

  • The batsman was hit in line with the stumps and not outside off stump (assuming he wasn't shouldering arms) - Can be checked with complete accuracy with the guide on the pitch as from the point of the ball leaving the bowler's hand to the point it hits the batsman, what is there is a replay and not a "Guess".
  • The ball had not pitched outside the leg stump - Again, can be checked with accuracy using one of the aforementioned methods. There was no bat involved before the ball hit the pads - can be checked and decided using Snickometer and/or hotspot.
  • But, that the ball would go on to hit the stumps - Can only be "predicted" using a path shown by hawk-eye, and that is where the issue comes in.

So why not change the DRS to say that only the decisions given OUT by the umpire can be challenged by the batting team and the decisions that he gives NOT OUT, the bowling side can't challenge it?

It'll still be fair to both teams as both will get their turn to bat.

Now how this will help:

hawkeye
The hawkeye needs to be taken out of the equation

As we saw above, if an umpire's NOT OUT decision is challenged by the bowling side, it can only be overturned if we choose to trust the "Predictive" ball path shown by Hawkeye, which has to show the ball hitting the stumps, else not. And that is the only tool in DRS that works on prediction and not actual facts.

But if a batsman has been given OUT, what things can be checked if he challenges to overturn it?

1) Did he hit it? - Can be checked using snicko-meter and/or hot-spot.

2) Did it pitch in line? - Can be checked accurately using the guide on the pitch as it is a slow motion replay that tells where the ball pitched; there is no guess here.

3) Did it hit him outside off stump and he was playing a shot? - Again, can be checked using the guide in point 2; with no guess, just a replay.

If he has hit it - Overturn the decision.

If it hasn't pitched in line - Overturn the decision.

If it hit him outside off stump and he was playing a shot - Overturn the decision.

If these 3 things did not happen and the umpire judged correctly in all these 3 cases - Let the on-field decision stay.

Take guess and prediction out of the picture and let the decision on the ball's path after hitting the batsman's pad be left to the umpire's judgment.

This way, not many questions can be raised about the authenticity of the entire process as the 3 tools used work on facts and not guesses/estimates/predictions. The umpire's good old right of making a not out call if he isn't certain will remain in the game, and the batsmen will get to challenge decisions and get them overturned only and only if there is conclusive, and not predictive, evidence that they were wrongly given out.

Perhaps, this one simple tweak to the DRS for LBW decisions and the BCCI won't see many reasons to object to its use in the future.

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