Time to review the reviewers

Don’t blame the DRS. Blame the humans making a mess of it.

If umpires can replay no-balls, why not contentious calls like the Broad one?

Sample this incident from February.

South Africa are playing Pakistan in the Cape Town Test. Jacques Kallis faces Saeed Ajmal. The ball pops to the short-leg fielder. Pakistan appeal for a catch. Steve Davis gives it out. But Kallis reckons he hasn’t hit it, so he calls for a decision review. TV umpire Billy Bowden looks at replays and concludes that Kallis is right. But then Bowden finds that there’s an LBW on here. The ball has pitched in line, hit Kallis in line and the HawkEye feed shows the ball brushing the leg-stump.

Since the rulebook says that an appeal covers all modes of dismissals, Kallis is given his marching orders, much to his shock. Then, it gets curious.

The ICC steps in to say the umpires have messed up in dismissing Kallis. They say: “The playing conditions state that when the third umpire observes that the batsman could be out by another mode of dismissal, the decision being reviewed using DRS should be as if the batsman had been originally given not out.  Therefore, in this instance Kallis, as the point of impact was umpire's call, should not have been given out LBW.”

What ICC said is essentially this: “Here’s this rule which says Kallis was out LBW. But here’s this other rule we’ve written which says he was not out. Good luck making sense of all this.”

The ICC loves to remind us that the DRS has increased accurate decision making and eliminated the obviously bad decisions – like the inside edges you could spot from the moon. But as incidents from the first Ashes Test reveal, we continue to get terrible decisions, we have humans to blame for those decisions and as the Kallis incident shows, the wording of DRS laws is complex and confusing.


***


Four decisions had a massive impact on that game. First, it was Ashton Agar was given not out when everyone watching on TV and on the giant screen at the ground thought he was out stumped. Everyone except TV umpire Marais Erasmus. Agar's 98 on debut was a potentially match-winning effort and he had Erasmus to thank for it. We have multiple high-speed cameras providing real-time data, but the data is useless in the hands of an umpire who can’t interpret it correctly.

After the Agar episode, we had Jonathan Trott’s wicket. Trott called for a review after being judged LBW first ball. He felt there was an inside edge. But he was let down by the HotSpot operator who was so caught up with replays of the previous delivery, he forgot to focus on the ball that got Trott. Result? There was no HotSpot data to redeem Trott. Let down by a human, again. The HotSpot inventor then apologised to Trott for the lapse.

Then came the Stuart Broad incident. That Broad had knocked the cover off that ball. But Aleem Dar didn’t see it. Australia had exhausted their quota of reviews. Aleem could have referred it to Erasmus. One replay would have settled the matter. But he stubbornly stood his ground despite Australia’s protesting. Another case of human intervention undermining technology.


***


The other point to be made here is that it’s a trend among on-field umpires these days to constantly ask for feedback from their colleague upstairs. The best example of that is the checking of no-balls after every dismissal. Given the help available to him, what was stopping Aleem from consulting Erasmus? And even if Aleem didn't want to refer the call, why can't there be a simple provision for the TV umpire to step in an overrule the on-field umpire?

The game fittingly ended with another contentious review. There was no explicit evidence of Brad Haddin edging that ball from James Anderson. But Erasmus ruled it out due to the sound from the Snickometer – a tool that’s not even part of the DRS. It is unclean what Erasmus based his decision on.

The conclusion to be drawn from the events at Trent Bridge? Show me a foolproof technology, and I’ll show you a fool who can mess it up. There’s evidence piling that umpires are poorly trained to use the DRS. And the complex lettering of the DRS rules further complicates matters. So then can you blame India for being opposed to this madness?

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