DRS technology

2012-02-11 00:00

RAY WHITE looks at how DRS technology has assisted cricket and it’s slow bowlers

A QUIET revolution has crept into cricket bringing with it an unexpected spring for spinners. The Decision Review System, which was so prominent in the recent series between England and Pakistan has been in operation for several years in international cricket.

It is only now, however, that its impact has begun to affect the manner in which teams approach their matches at least in those parts of the world where pitches give help to slow bowlers.

The DRS was introduced after the technology available to the television producers had begun to make life uncomfortable for umpires whose mistakes were constantly played and replayed amidst considerable adverse comment from smart-arse broadcasters.

A groundswell developed for the introduction of technology to assist the umpires in their decision making. The cricketers themselves began to press for it in their own forums on the grounds that the only thing everyone wanted was to ensure that the correct decisions were made.

Various experiments with technology were started round the world and after some tinkering and further development the DRS came into being. Initially the ICC’s main objective was to eliminate the glaring umpiring howlers.

On the basis that there were unlikely to be more than a couple of poor decisions in an innings each team in international cricket was given three challenges which would be reduced for every unsuccessful challenge. In no time the law of unintended consequences began to operate.

Three challenges proved to be too many as teams began to use these challenges speculatively in situations where no clear mistake had been made by the umpires.

The fielding side constantly referred decisions involving top batsmen, who were quick to refer adverse decisions against themselves. Most challenges were used in fifty/fifty decisions involving crucial batsmen. Teams tried to keep one challenge in reserve for the obvious howler.

The ICC wisely reduced the number of unsuccessful challenges to two which had made teams more circumspect about launching speculative challenges, but the genie was out of the bottle.

The erosion of the age old convention of giving batsmen the benefit of the doubt had begun. It exists now only in a much reduced form. The effect has been to make life more difficult for batsmen and somewhat easier for the long suffering bowlers whose potency has been reduced by almost every law introduced after the Second World War. The result has been an increasing number of test matches that finish well before the fifth day.

The main contributor to this welcome state of affairs is not the DRS itself, but the realisation amongst top umpires that many more balls were going to hit the stumps than they had hitherto assumed.

The umpires have become much less conservative about giving LBW decisions where the ball is hitting either leg stump or the top of the stumps. They have seen countless replays of balls hitting the stumps in instances where they had previously given batsmen the benefit of the doubt. Even when the DRS has not been used, as in matches involving India, the umpires have been more hawkish.

The attitude of the umpires now has shifted towards giving the marginal calls out and leaving the responsibility of a referral to the batsman, who then has the burden of making a decision which, if wrong, will affect both his team and the later batsmen. Dressing rooms are unlikely to remain quiet in the presence of a batsman who is thought to have selfishly squandered challenges in his own interest.

I imagine Kevin Pietersen knows a thing or two about the pressures of just such a situation.

The principal beneficiaries of the DRS have been slow bowlers operating on pitches that are helpful to their craft. The forward lunge with bat and pad close together used to be the perfect defence against the turning ball. Umpires rarely gave LBW decisions against a batsman who was struck on the pad with his front foot well down the pitch.

(Although it was a different matter if the batsmen had played a sweep and missed. Many umpires who had been bowlers would send the batsman on his way with a flourish of the finger that suggested he would not tolerate such crude batting on his watch.)

“Sound defence”, however, was usually protected by all except a few eccentric umpires.

Darryl Hare was one of the first umpires to consistently give LBW decisions against the forward defensive stroke and the DRS has proved him to have been justified in his boldness. Batsmen are no longer safe in plunging the front foot down the pitch against the turning ball. With their principal form of defence now too risky, batmen need to find another way to play spinners on turning pitches.

On the evidence of England’s batsmen against Pakistan they have yet to find the answer.

Coaches of Test teams have their hands full in dealing with the new frontiers confronting batsmen.

Firstly, they need to deal with their own increasingly cranky batsmen some of whom are blaming the DRS for their poor form.

Secondly, new recruits to Test match cricket have had little experience of the DRS because the technology required for it to operate is not employed in domestic cricket.

Thus success at that level of the game has been achieved in circumstances that do not apply in Test match cricket. This is going to make the transition all that much harder for newcomers to the highest level of the game.

It may be too early to predict the long-term effects of the DRS on test match cricket, but initial indications are all positive apart from the benefit of increased accuracy from the umpires. Recent Test matches have been most absorbing. Above all, spinners will prosper again in an era when heavy bats have made life tough for slow bowlers.

• Ray White is the former president of the UCB

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