DRS: 5 Simple Ways to Fix Controversial Cricket System
Whether you are English or Australian, there's been too much focus on the Umpire Decision Review System (commonly known as DRS) in this year's Ashes and not enough attention given to the actual cricket.
In fact, technology issues have been such a distraction that some have even called for the system to be scrapped altogether. As Australian writer Martin Smith put it for Yahoo! Sports:
This Ashes series has proven that the DRS, in its current form, is a complete embarrassment and a blight on the sport.
After the first two Tests were marred by blatant errors and reckless misuse of the system by umpires and players, the opening day of the third Test unfortunately delivered more of the same.
As Smith himself admits, the major issue is the misuse of technology. You don't dispense with free speech because extremists abuse it, and you don't go back to a time before DRS because people are implementing the technology incorrectly.
The DRS is here to stay, and what it needs are a few simple tweaks to defuse the controversy that it has generated in recent times.
So I've done the ICC's job and made five simple recommendations.
Promote Specialist Umpires to Deal with Referrals
Elite umpires may be the best in the business on the field, but although on the face of it they are equipped to make those calls from a TV booth, they have so far proven incapable of doing so with consistency.
Whether it's Umpire Hair having his sound down when he needed to listen to the audio of a dismissal, or umpires forgetting when they have the power to intercede, the problem has been the application of the rules rather than the procedure itself.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan made the call for specialists to be created for the task in his Daily Telegraph column:
Overall I believe DRS is good for the game. It has moved cricket forward and we are getting more right decisions now. But we have to make sure the people who operate the system know the job. It sounds silly but we are in a situation where we need dedicated third umpires. It is a specialist job. At the moment one week an umpire is out in the middle, the next he is sat in a room surrounded by monitors.
The idea is simple: To cut out human error with DRS, get the best possible people into the job. Train them, or source them from outside the existing pool of elite umpires.
Copy Rugby Union and Let the Crowd Hear the Audio
A lot of the confusion over DRS arises from the silence as the umpires work out what happens.
The crowd are shown the same images that the video umpire is evaluating, but they hear nothing—neither the audio that accompanies the questions nor the conversation between the on-field umpire and his counterpart in the booth.
In rugby, this part of technology is handled well. The on-field referee asks a clear question, such as: Is there any reason I cannot award the try?
The footage is duly considered, and the answer is explained.
In cricket, even if the crowd do not agree with the verdict, a clearer understanding of the methodology behind the decision would surely help.
It would also make things clearer for the teams. Both the England and Australia camps have at one point or another had to ask the television umpire what the process was that led to a decision—Jonathan Trott's exit in the first Test at Trent Bridge and Usman Khawaja's at Old Trafford.
If It's Out, Then It's Out: End of Story
The original brief of Hawk-Eye technology in DRS was to help back up the on-field umpires. As such, there is some flexibility built into the system.
If an umpire says an lbw appeal is not out, then it needs to be clearly out in order for the decision to be overturned. If it is hitting, but only just, the umpire's call keeps the original decision in place.
That is not an easy thing to explain to cricket novices. If they watch the ball hit the stumps on the Hawk-Eye projection, surely that's clear enough?
In tennis, there is no such equivocation. If Hawk-Eye says the ball bounced in, then it did. If it is out by even so much as a hair's breadth, so be it.
So let cricket trust the trajectory of the tracking cameras. It's more scientific than an umpire's gut instinct, and it's clearer to everyone if there's no grey area of an umpire's call.
Introduce Real-Time Snicko Technology
One obvious way of improving the DRS is literally to improve the technology. Fortunately, this is happening, and the introduction of the snickometer (known as Snicko) is not far away.
In the Guardian, Warren Brennan, the inventor of Hot Spot—the heat-mapping technology used to detect edges—said using his system and Snicko in tandem was not far away:
I have spent the last two months in Britain helping trial Real Time Snicko...We have tested it in the Champions Trophy and the series against New Zealand as well as the Ashes. No technology will ever be 100% but RTS in conjunction with Hot Spot comes very, very close. When Ashton Agar edged a ball at Lord's, Hot Spot did not reveal any contact with the bat; Snicko did.
The more resources available to an umpire, the better the chances of arriving at the correct decision. Real-time snicko is just the start.
Force India to Adopt the Technology
Nothing says there are doubts over the DRS system more than the fact that India won't adopt it. Our contributor Venkat Ananth explored the reasons why earlier this week, but the point is simple: If a country can simply opt out of it, it discredits the technology.
Some countries, such as Bangladesh, have not applied it—not because they doubt its accuracy, but because they simply cannot afford the cost of the cameras and gadgetry that are required.
The ICC need to make it compulsory and ensure that the bill is footed, either centrally or through sponsorship. And accordingly, every nation will be playing to the same rules.