Cricket: it’s not whether the tracking system is 100% reliable, but about better verdicts

2011-09-24 00:00

INDIA’S reluctance to accept the decision review system (DRS) is regrettable and unduly categorical. After all, the DRS was introduced in part because of India’s furious reaction to the numerous umpiring blunders that affected the infamous SCG Test match, turning a tense contest into a bitter feud.

Had DRS been in operation in that match much of the bad blood might have been avoided. That’s one of the reasons for supporting reviews. Another is the patent absurdity of everyone knowing that the wrong verdict has been given except the poor fellow making it. It’s ridiculous that TV can show an incident straight afterwards and with absolute clarity confirm that the umpire was wrong and yet the white coat is not given the chance to put things right.

Cricket is not about umpiring egos, it’s about fair competition. Defenders of the old ways insist that the umpire’s decision ought to be respected and accepted and argue that this is one of the traditional and crucial disciplines of the game. Nothing is more calculated to reduce authority than allowing obviously erroneous judgment so stand.

If anything, DRS has improved the reputation of umpires, the good ones anyhow, by showing that they are almost always right. Aleem Dar made a mistake in Colombo the other day and it came as a surprise — evidently he is not all-seeing and all-knowing after all!

In one respect the BCCI is right. The tracking system and other techniques need to be credible. That is not happening in cricket. Only the Australian and English TV channels used the best available technology to track the ball. In these cases the cameras take 250 pictures a minute so the tracking system has many reference points.

A cricket ball can travel a long way in a second, but the fastest deliveries take about a second to complete the journey to the batsman’s skull

Elsewhere slower and fewer cameras are used and they produce only 50 or so frames a second. In other words, if the ball strikes the pad not long after bouncing it’s quite possible the tracking system has no idea what course it took after landing. That happened recently to Phillip Hughes in Galle. He swept a full-length off-break and the third umpire confirmed the raised finger. What raised eyebrows was the claim made by the tracker that the ball had continued on its original course after bouncing. In fact it had turned considerably. That sort of mistake reduces faith in the entire system.

India have also lost confidence in the hotspot, a technology that detects heat, the sort generated when leather strikes wood or glove. Hitherto regarded as foolproof, hotspot has been failing to pick up edges, fuelling doubts about its reliability. But its incapacity has created other rumours, for instance about Vaseline being applied to the edges of bats in an attempt to counter the heat.

Dubious conduct has been going on since the game began. Victorian clergymen talking about the gentlemanly game were living in Wonderland. Bowlers used to pick seams then they chopped up the ball and after that began rubbing Murray mints into it. Batsmen have also had their tricks, mostly involving ensuring they run the game and captain the teams so that they can control rules and pitches.

Only players will know whether Vaseline has been used for this purpose — it does seem an awful waste. Their suspicions suggest that at the very least it has been talked about. As a result, and the denials of the manufacturers notwithstanding, hotspot is now in the doghouse as well.

As far as India is concerned it’s back to square one. The BCCI want to wait till all matters have been fully investigated before putting judgment into the hands of the third umpire and technology. But humanity cannot wait upon perfection or else we’d all still be in caves. Better to seek improvement.

The wrong question has been asked. The issue is not whether the systems put in place are 100% reliable, but whether better verdicts are nowadays reached. To my mind more appeals are answered correctly than ever before. Of course the new ways are not perfect — players will find loopholes, third umpires will use the information unwisely and flaws will be found with the scheme — but let’s get on with it.

Every nation has its grievances. England were convinced that Don Bradman was caught at second slip on his comeback in 1946/7. In 1970/71 England were frustrated not to be given any LBWs in the entire Ashes series. Nowadays replays and DRS and even hotspot can still take away the bitter taste of injustice. Well, most of it anyhow.

India ought to change their stance from rejection of DRS to a demand that the best tracking system is used in every important match, with ICC footing the bill. The past was not as good as supposed.

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