Tuesday, July 16, 2013

DRS problem can't be solved by leaving it to the umpires, we need more referrals

Ian Chappell's suggestion to leave the DRS to the umpires has a fundamental flaw, even if at first it seems like a reasonable solution to the problem of running out of referrals. The Chris Broad situation in the first Test of the Mega Ashes arose because Australia had used up the two unsuccessful reviews allowed per innings. So when Broad was caught at slip and given not out by Aleem Dar, the decision could not be challenged and it changed the course of the match.

Ian Chappell suggests that instead of limiting the number of referrals, the use of the DRS can be left to the discretion of the umpires - just like in a runout call. That is, whenever the umpire is in doubt, he can take the help of technology and the third umpire. So, if Dar wasn't sure the ball had come off Broad's bat, he could have accessed the replays, stump mike and Hotspot before giving his decision.

No doubt, we will get more decisions right this way, and that's the objective of using the DRS anyway. Too many matches have been spoilt by umpiring mistakes for us to let romantic notions like 'preserving the human element' stand in the way of using technology. But to let the umpires decide when they will use it opens a Pandora's box.

Way back in the nineties, when runout referrals were first introduced, India's nemesis Steve Bucknor refused to go upstairs to the third umpire on a Jonty Rhodes runout despite vociferous appeals. Rhodes went on to prevent a batting collapse and India missed the chance of a rare Test victory in South Africa.

Leaving it to the umpires to decide when they will use replays will thus open the door to fresh controversies. Some umpires may fail to consult the third umpire when they should, while others will refer even the most unlikely appeals to the box, as we have seen with runouts. DRS is a work in progress; why complicate the system further?

The solution is quite simple - just increase the number of referrals. In a tennis match, each player is allowed three challenges per set which lasts about half an hour on average, and nobody feels there are too many interruptions. The limit of just two unsuccessful reviews per innings in a five-day Test match doesn't make any sense.

There can be a number of ways of arriving at a more reasonable limit on referrals. There are ten wickets to take in an innings; so let there be ten referrals. Even if both sides use all their referrals, and they take up half an hour in a day's play, it would still be worth it, because nothing is so off-putting as a badly adjudicated game.

Instead of limiting so severely the number of referrals allowed, other ways can be found to speed up the flow of the game. England and Australia were ambling along at 12 or 13 overs an hour in the Trent Bridge Test. Chris Broad even took off his boot in the middle of his over to waste time in an attempt to prevent Australia from facing another over before lunch on the final day. Even otherwise, routinely, the day's play is extended by half an hour, and even then the day's quota of overs is often incomplete. Why is nothing being done about this? Fines and suspensions have obviously proved ineffective. The only thing that will work is a penalty that has an impact on the game - such as giving 10 runs to the batting side for every over short, after allowing for stoppage. That should stop the dawdling, and leave more time for what matters - more referrals and more correct decisions.

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