Technology and its Politics in Cricket — Mahela on the DRS

Michael Roberts

Tony Greig is a wide-ranging and perceptive commentator. We should be thankful that he took the opportunity of raising the issue of the DRS system on the morning of the second day of the Second Test Match at the P Sara when interviewing Mahela Jayawardene. This moment of review was inspired by the fact that Mahela had called in the DRS review when he was given out LBW by Rauf or Oxenford (I forget whom) in the 80th over – a crucial decision that influenced the subsequent unfolding – and unravelling – of the Sri Lankan innings …. In short a turning point as seen in retrospect.

Unlike other cricketers Mahela is as honest as intelligent. He indicated that he had reacted instinctively in calling for a review and that this call was an error. After ten minutes in the pavilion he had reached a calmer state and realised his mistake.

This comment was prefaced by the remark that (a) umpiring was “a tough business” and (b) umpires sometimes make “honest mistakes.” In other words it is important to have the DRS to rectify such honest mistakes. Mahela went on to say that as a consequence of the DRS,

  1. umpiring has improved over the past two years and
  2. it has had a calming effect on the umpires [by implication a contention that its availability re-assures the umpires that bad decisions can be rectified].

Going beyond Mahela let me contend that it also has a calming impact on the players and reduces – without eliminating – the potential for on-field contretemps of the Harbhajan-Symonds type.

Note too that Ian Bell was convinced that the lbw decision he received in the 2nd innings in Galle was not out but the DRS confirmed the umpire’s call. He was way forward but the ball hit him (a) low; (b) between wkt and wkt and (c) would have continued on to hit the stumps. This was/is an instructive case. The old school of umpiring would never have given him out. The newer lot have learnt to make bold judgement calls on such adjudications and are prepared to give outs when their assessment indicates the probability of the ball hitting the stumps. Thus, they do not resort to an automatic negation.

I had a disagreement with Joe Hoad and Trevor Chesterfield once in Galle when I was in the press box watching the Windies play Sri Lanka. On the second day Gayle was hit plumb and low in front by Ajantha Mendis in the first over of the day. The umpire decreed it not out and the DRS appeal was turned down by the Third Umpire. Gayle was already in his hundreds and went on to make a double or triple century. So this decision favoured the Windies considerably though it would not have placed them in a losing position because the total was substantial already.

Though respecting the views of Hoad and Chesterfield my reading said OUT; but I was puzzled that the DRS on TV did not display the Hawk-Eye trajectory after the ball hit the pads. Subsequently I discovered that the technicians had not been able to get it working at that point of time. So the result was due to the malfunctioning of DRS not its innate inaccuracies. BUT what a difference that decision made for the fortunes of that Test match.

Even with DRS and a good Virtual Eye/Hawk Eye there are 50/50 decisions and the ICC, wisely, has decided to take a pragmatic course and abide by the field umpire’s decision in such instances. Again, where there is doubt, as when the England side thought they had Samaraweera caught off glove/thigh pad at short leg on the first day of the Second Test, the benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman.

The DRS adjudications – with Hot Spot as additional aid — may not be hundred per cent accurate, but they are far better than the degree of erroneous decision-making that prevailed in the past under the REGIME of those men in white.

When a technical failure in the DRS in the NZ-Saf series recently led to an outcry from some cricketers – a knee-jerk reaction of the type that Mahela indulged in when given out (hit on knee too) – a friend sent this item from cricinfo to me, implicitly suggesting that my stance was wrong and that DRS was full of holes.

My retort is short: this shortcoming was not due to the format of the DRS, but due to a malfunction. If a town’s electricity supply is cut-off due to some machine malfunction, that town will not revert to candlelit methods of the past.

So, even intelligent human beings with degrees indulge in ridiculous arguments.


For an argument against the DRS, see Mahinda Wijesinghe, “UDRS: Bane or Boon?” in AND essays and blogs under similar titles in AND

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  1. Pingback: UDRS: Bane or Boon? « Critiquing Cricket

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