In 2009, Rafael Nadal was at his wits' end in a match against Mikhail Youzhny. The Spaniard had seen a shot from the Russian go out. Hawk-eye was used and the replay showed the ball touching the line, ruling the point in Youzhny's favour.
Nadal reacted in disgust. "The mark of the ball was still on court and it was outside. But in the challenge it was in, so that's unbelievable," he said. "The Hawk Eye system is not perfect. I told the chair umpire: 'Look, the ball is out' and he said: 'I know'."
Two years later, cricket players and fans are still arguing over the usefulness of technology, UDRS (in one of those humorous asides, the 'U' has been dropped by the ICC in order not to hurt the ego of the umpires) and the enforcement of laws. The fire has been further fanned by the different application of LBW laws in three similar cases where Ian Bell was ruled not out, and Elton Chigumbura and Alex Cusack out.
An aside: Nadal and Federer have gotten away with calling the ATP and its bosses names in public. Under ICC's code of conduct, Dhoni and Chigumbura can take no such liberties; they criticized the application of the rule with carefully chosen words and even so, the ICC got all hot and bothered about Dhoni's mild criticism.
So, let me make my point: cricket can never have fool-proof technology. Here is why.
The LBW rule is a unique one in sport. In most sports, technology analyses events that have already occurred. Did Nadal hit the ball long? Was Wayne Rooney off-side? Did Usain Bolt jump the gun? Replays, along with a healthy application of common sense (missing in Nadal's case above) can help answer these questions with a high degree of accuracy.
The LBW law, however, has a predictive element. Will the ball hit the stumps? Will it bounce too high? Will it turn? Will it hold its line? Did it land on the shiny side? Did it land on the seam? Did it hit a pebble or crack and deviate unexpectedly? How many revolutions were there on the ball? What speed was it travelling at? Do we have space-age technology to answer these questions accurately each time? The answer, short and sweet, is no.
Such technology won't be found in the near future; maybe not even in the distant future. Even if it did, you would still need human intervention to arrive at a decision, as Bell's case showed us.
That said, it's also important to analyse how teams at the World Cup have used the referrals.
Pakistan's usage of the UDRS begs highlighting. They were horrible to start with but have got better. They made two absurd referrals in their first two games. Against Kenya, Younis Khan questioned a straightforward LBW, got struck down. Against Sri Lanka, Shahid Afridi referred an LBW shout --- almost in anger --- when the ball had pitched a mile outside leg.
It was typical of Pakistan: react in a hot-headed way, put the individual's need ahead of the team's, and don't miss the first chance to question authority.
By their third game against Canada, they'd improved to such an extent that cricket became a sideshow to their constant reviewing. Ten referrals were made in the match; Pakistan alone made seven. Mohammad Hafeez and Younis set the tone, stupidly questioning straight LBWs. Once Canada began chasing 185, as many as seven referrals were made in the innings, five coming from Pakistan.
Darryl Harper was successfully challenged four times, thrice by Pakistan, and once Nigel Llong. It was either great reviewing by Pakistan or terrible umpiring from Harper to get four wrong in one innings.
In view of Harper's performance, there's an important question to be raised here. Has the presence of UDRS relaxed players and umpires alike with the knowledge that fairness will prevail -- and in the process, taken a bit of the edge off umpires' alertness?
Take another example from the SA-WI match. Jacques Kallis was caught low at slip by Darren Sammy. Instead of asking for a review, he simply chose to ask Sammy if the catch was clean. Sammy said yes and Kallis walked. It's a situation which would sway more players towards an honest disposition.
India on the other hand still seem spooked by UDRS. Their first serious referral --- Bell --- ended in controversy due to an obscure sub-rule in which batsmen can be saved from being given LBW if the point of impact is more than 2.5 metres from the stumps. It is worth noting that the 2.5 meter rule is not so much a rule as it is a guideline, given to umpires to make sure they take the bounce of the wicket into account.
The fallacy lies in expecting a defined distance to predict bounce -- on a low track, it can pitch 3 meters away from the stump and still hit the middle of middle; on a pacy Durban deck, the ball could hit length, and still bounce inches over the stumps. But let that lie for now -- as I pointed out, the system is not perfect; nor, in the case of the Bell decision, are those who implement the system.
In the Ireland game, when Cusack was struck in front by Yuvraj, Dhoni called for a review as an afterthought. Cusack was given out eventually even though the conditions for the dismissal were exactly the same as Bell's.
The conclusion we can draw is that UDRS is a work in progress. If it promises to get better and make cricketers be at their best behaviour, isn't that good for cricket?
The views expressed here are of the author and not the ICC.