MS Dhoni's recent comments about the Umpiring Decision Review System caught the eye. In Ahmedabad, two decisions from Steve Davis involving VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan gave India heart-burn. Also, we'll discuss Kumar Dharmasena's decision today to bring back Martin Guptill with the third umpire's help. I'll come back to that in a bit.
First, when pressed about using UDRS to avoid Ahmedabad-like situations, the India captain said:
"You have two umpires who are supposed to take good decisions on the field. If you see Laxman's decision, I don't know what to say exactly about it."
And continuing about the reliability of UDRS, he says:
"I am not going to buy a life jacket that doesn't come with a warranty."
Now, here's the problem with Dhoni's stance. When you say "if you see Laxman's decision", you're going to use TV replays to prove your point — the same TV replays which you say are unreliable for UDRS.
So, sorry Mahi, you can't have it both ways.
Then, the bit about warranty and guarantee: even with TV replays, have we ever had fool-proof umpiring? If not, why single out UDRS for unreliability?
Even Hot Spot, which Sachin Tendulkar vouches for, would drastically slim the margin of error, but never make it 100% error-free. This is because the technology is ultimately at the mercy of the umpire, who is human and will get his decisions wrong.
It's unlikely any technology can make umpiring error-free. But if it can reduce errors, it's a blessing. Luckily, there is evidence that UDRS has resulted in a greater number of correct decisions. If you go by ICC's version, UDRS had increased the percentage of correct calls from 91 to 97 last year.
Also, UDRS is a work in progress. You can't improve it if you don't use it. So wouldn't you take 97% now with the hope of gradually getting close to 100?
Coming back to the Guptill decision, the no-ball was called by TV replays — the same ones which are used for UDRS. The same ones which showed Laxman getting a huge inside edge when he was out LBW.
So, you can have unreliable umpires, you can have players rubbishing the umpires, and you can have third umpires not having the power to overrule blatantly incorrect calls — but you can't have UDRS. It's all screwed up.
Part of the blame for the BCCI not using UDRS lies with the ICC, which is lax in the uniform implementation of its own laws.
So why isn't the BCCI using the UDRS? Part of it stems from Indian players getting the system all wrong during the tour of Sri Lanka in 2008.
Here's the Board president's take:
"We are not convinced about the UDRS and whether the system is foolproof. We discussed with the ICC too in the last meeting. It is the judgment of one (system) against the other (the umpire). Take the case of a leg before decision. The bounce on a cricket pitch always varies. It is not always the same. Similarly, in case there's a spinner on, the spin may vary, even the pace of the ball. We are not convinced if the UDRS can take all of this into account."
The costs are very high. At $56,000 (Rs 25 lakh) per match day, a five-match series will cost close to Rs 1.25 crore. Even if the BCCI can afford it, what about other boards? What about Bangladesh or West Indies?
The first bit about reliability, I've tried to argue, is rubbish. They're losing a chance to improve the game with this sort of stubbornness.
As for costs of cameras and technology, here's a thought: India will probably play, at most, 6-9 Tests a year at home; and by Manohar's estimate, the cost of using UDRS would, at best, be Rs 14 crore.
It's a start. They could even consider implementing it in one format, before moving on to other formats.
This is a Board whose earnings for this year are projected at Rs 2,000 crore.
What's 14 crore for them, if not loose change? Still, to cut costs, let's propose getting sponsors for UDRS decisions. This might even make UDRS profitable.
So, on one side you have half the Test playing nations favouring UDRS. And on the other side, you have Manohar saying he can't use it because Bangladesh and West Indies can't — even though those nations are under no pressure to use UDRS. Funny, isn't it?
The only positive coming I see in Dhoni's comments is that he at least sees it as a final recourse. And one hopes he'll ultimately be able to persuade Tendulkar and the BCCI to see it favourably.