Cricket: Its about time the Umpire Decision Review System became compulsory

2011-01-12 00:00

THE short Test series between the two top-ranked Test teams in world cricket has cricketing fans craving for more. Three helpings of top-notch Test cricket have whetted our appetites, but on reflection a five-Test feast between these two great cricketing nations would have been infinitely more satisfying.

The series was a veritable smorgasbord of all that’s good about the five-day game. There was fever pitch excitement and tension, record-breaking innings, hostile bowling, fierce competition and a whole lot more.

As Test series go it had everything bar one essential ingredient. In my opinion the use of the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) would have made it complete. The Proteas were determined to dislodge India from their number one spot and there was much to play for. Had the UDRS been in place the series could well have ended differently.

The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) regulations stipulate that the cricketing authorities from both countries must agree to the use of the UDRS. The fact that India is permitted to choose whether they use it or not, says more about the power of The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), than the ICC’s limp-wristedness.

The UDRS was used very effectively in the Ashes series and will be again in the one-day series. In a very one-sided series where Australia were forced to eat generous portions of humble pie, the implementation of the UDRS, backed up by superb coverage by Channel 9, provided a fascinating and entertaining added dimension.

The pressure on captains to make the correct review requests and on umpires to make the right decisions all adds to the intrigue of Test cricket. The replays shown on the big screens at the grounds and on television succeed in drawing spectators into the tension of the decision.

Watching the same footage as seen by the third umpire, sometimes frame by frame, and the anticipation of the final decision involves the crowd and gets them excited. For the umpires there is no less pressure when the UDRS is used. It can be a lonely place in the middle for an umpire when his decision is being reviewed for the world to see. And yet it’s not only the poor decisions that are identified by the UDRS, the system also highlights the correct ones.

In the South Africa- India series, the decision that stands out the most was the lbw involving Zaheer Khan at Kingsmead where Dale Steyn was the bowler. Khan was on three at the time and went on to make 27 in a match-winning partnership with VVS Laxman that yielded 70 runs.

The umpire decided that Khan had got an inside edge before the ball hit his pad. The TV replay showed clearly that Khan’s bat had hit the ground and that he was in fact plum lbw. The implications of this decision and a couple of others had a huge impact on the series.

In my opinion, the use of the UDRS must be made compulsory. With cricket being the professional game that it is, a system that has the potential to improve the percentage of correct decisions, even marginally, has to be adopted.

With cricket lovers showing their increasing appetite for competitive contests and with stakes high for top Test rankings, the UDRS is too important to remain an optional side order.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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