It’s been exactly five years since the Decision Review System (DRS) or (as it was then known) Universal DRS was first trialled in an international cricket—a Test series involving India and Sri Lanka in July-August 2008.
Not a lot has changed since then—umpires are still making glaring omissions or giving out howlers by the Test match and the system, the technology of which was primarily conceived to eliminate those howlers, isn’t quite up to the job.
The DRS debate has, over the years, evolved into one of the most contentious and consuming in international cricket and, as things stand, a resolution seems a long way away.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) resistance to the DRS is as public and consistent as it gets and, given the system’s inadequacies and discrepancies in the ongoing Ashes series, the BBCI is fully entitled to feel vindicated about what others in the game perceive as a hardline stance.
While it must be clarified that the BCCI is not against the use of technology in decision-making per se, its opposition to the DRS is only "in its present form”.
The board has made no bones about specific and contentious aspects of the review system, especially ball-tracking, which its members feel is inconsistent, given that HawkEye or VirtualEye, whichever service is in use, comes with a predictive element.
Shashank Manohar, the former president of the BCCI, outlined the board's opposition.
Our objection is to ball-tracking. It becomes just a case of someone else’s imagination versus the umpire’s imagination.
Besides ball-tracking, the board has also aired its displeasure with HotSpot, with inaccuracy again being of primary concern. During India’s tour of England in 2011, DRS was used in part after the ICC made using HotSpot optional, replays with showed several decisions involving both teams that could be termed as “dodgy” and inconclusive.
There have been times, of course, when the BCCI and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have reached compromises in their bid to implement technology in the game.
The ICC’s Cricket Committee sought to make the use of DRS mandatory in all international games, but the BCCI opposed the move unilaterally.
Its frequent resistance to the universal application of DRS finally paid off as the ICC’s cricket committee made the use of technology optional or, until more recently, a bilateral arrangement between the teams playing a series.
Apart from inherent flaws in technology, one of the major obstacles to the BCCI accepting the review system is costs.
The board has argued that the system lacks economic sustainability, especially for smaller boards around the world, which do not make enough money through international cricket.
Niranjan Shah, the BCCI Vice-President told to an Indian newspaper in June 2011.
You have to look at the economics. Every board is not making money out of Test matches and ODIs. The system requires about $60,000 per match.
And In January 2012, BCCI president N. Srinvasan further reiterated his board's opposition to DRS.
BCCI is not against the use of technology at all. Technology which is not perfect will not add to decision making but rather will take it away. We have told the ICC that the ball-tracking technology is faulty, there is uncertainty about it. The problem in the HotSpot was evident during the England tour. So the main two components which form UDRS do not stand up to the test of perfection. My people have made presentations to me about the HawkEye and when I asked about how certain it is, I was told it is like leap of faith I will have to take.
Several Indian players have come out in opposition to the review system in the past few years, including the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Tendulkar, who featured in the India-Sri Lanka series where DRS was first trialled, expressed his concerns back in 2010.
I am not fully convinced with the referral system [DRS]. When I was here [in Sri Lanka] last time, I was not convinced with many decisions. I did not feel comfortable, it was an experiment I felt.
In 2011, he, however, stated that he wasn't against the use DRS in general.
I am not against DRS, but I feel it will be more effective with the support of the Snickometer and HotSpot technology. This will give more consistent results.
Dhoni, who’s never been a fan of the system, had this to say as recently as the Champions Trophy.
It’s there to take the blunders away from the game. Something like a big inside edge goes on to the bat, the batsman has an advantage and the same. So we’ll have to wait and watch how he goes.
After India were denied a key leg-before decision involving Ian Bell during the 2011 World Cup match against England in Bengaluru, Dhoni had this to say.
Adulteration is quite bad, whether it is natural or technology. I think the adulteration of technology with human intention was the reason why we didn't get that [Bell’s] wicket.
Replays showed Bell was out plumb leg-before and HawkEye confirmed the same, but the umpire on that occasion had ruled in the batsman’s favour because he was too far down the pitch and not a ball was kept low all game.
During India’s tour of Australia in 2011, Dhoni categorically stated he'd prefer umpires to be the ones making the decision.
I still put my money on the umpires because they have been doing the job [for a long time]. It’s just that the pressure on them is growing with plenty of technology around. We feel the technology is not 100% accurate. At times you see an edge on HotSpot, sometimes you don’t see anything happening. Before the start of the England series, I was a big fan of HotSpot. The way things went in England, I don’t have the same kind of confidence. If it is not 100%, I will still go with umpires. This is a game where people commit mistakes. If the bowler doesn’t commit a mistake, the batsman can’t get runs. If the batsman doesn’t commit a mistake, the bowler doesn’t get a wicket. So we’ll make umpires too a part of it.
The BCCI’s reluctance to accept the blanket implementation of the DRS is quietly gathering some support across the cricketing world, mainly because of poor umpiring decisions.
That said, technology in this sport is here to stay, but over the course of time and with modifications, it needs to be ironed out in a way that it doesn’t interfere with the human element, which the sport proudly upholds.