The Albatross around the Umpire's neck: DRS
Cricket is a game that has years and years of history behind it. Hundreds of players have played the gentleman’s game over the years, setting new records, winning tournaments and taking the game to newer heights. Right from the beginning, every decision for a wicket depends on the umpires who judge every ball and whose decision is sacrosanct. But in the past couple of years, matters seem to have changed dramatically. The umpire’s decision is not the final word in today’s games and players get a chance to challenge his judgement using an arrangement called the – UDRS (Umpire Decision Referral System)
The Decision Review System (DRS) is an arrangement that enables players to challenge the umpires’ decisions. A variety of technology is used to review the decision made and hence verify the umpires’ decision if necessary. Slow motion replays are generally used to analyse catches i.e. to check whether a fielder has caught the ball cleanly, is widely used.
Hotspot is a heat-sensitive camera that is used to see if the bat nicked the ball. The DRS is most commonly used in cases of LBW appeals which are most often than not the most challenging decisions for umpires. In testing LBW appeals, a technology called Hawk-eye is used. It is a blend of video replays and a modelling software that maps the progress of the ball to see where it pitched and struck the batsman, and then calculates whether it would have gone on to hit the stumps. When one considers the sheer scope of the options that these technologies offer, it is a clear indication of the revolution that has dramatically changed the way cricket is played and judged.
The DRS has added a new strategic dimension to the game. Apart from handling the team on the field in terms of field placing, bowling changes, etc. an astute captain must use the DRS judiciously. Each side is allowed only two unsuccessful reviews per innings. This means that if a team gets the DRS wrong twice, it cannot make use of the feature any further and is thus, at a significant disadvantage. This puts the onus on the captain, who must maintain his cool when faced with over-enthusiastic bowlers and wicket-keepers who tend to be convinced that every time the ball hits the pads the batsman is out LBW.
Implications for the umpires
The DRS by its very nature, makes a provision for questioning the umpires’ decisions. In a game where the umpire’s word has always been considered as the final word, the DRS disturbs the whole arrangement – his judgment is no longer final. In fact, the decision now has scope for argument like never before. The URDS has made the umpires a part of the process, and not the final decision makers. The finality and abiding nature of the decisions is now gone and both teams are allotted a fixed number of chances to use the DRS. This system has undoubtedly brought in transparency to the game and made every decision questionable. It also ensures fairness and accuracy in decisions that have the potential of altering the outcomes of games. Some believe that the DRS has made the game more civil. As the teams themselves now have a say in the decision-making, the umpire’s bias is no longer the bone of contention. Thus, the game becomes cleaner and more positive.
But on the flip side, UDRS puts the umpires in a tough spot. If an umpire’s decision is turned over by the DRS, his competence is questioned. This makes umpires extremely conscious of being under the scanner all the time. Thus far, umpires have reacted fairly normally to the system but the immense pressure and public criticism is bound to show its effect sooner or later. Some argue that umpires have become used to this ‘watching over’ ever since TV companies began using Hawkeye and Snickometer technology. Whether they will slowly come to terms with the DRS and judge coolly despite the immense pressure remains to be seen.
Umpires’ reactions on the DRS are mixed. Popular Australian umpire Simon Taufel belongs to the school of thought that believes the DRS weakens the sanctity of the umpire’s decision. DRS is accused of making the umpires more conservative since the players can always question the judgment and the umpire might be proved wrong. However, in stark contrast to this approach, another argument is that the DRS has actually improved umpiring skills. Now that they know that their decisions can be reviewed, they seem to feel immense pressure to pronounce the right decision in the first place.
Arguments on both sides carry significant weight and it is difficult to point out which is more correct out of the two. If anything, the DRS has proved that even the fiercest bowlers always know the truth deep down and that umpires, more often than not, get it right!