At times during the Ashes in England last summer, the Decision Review System became a story in itself; even the umpires seemed confused. At other times, the technology worked a treat. But how has it affected the way the game has been ofﬁciated, played, covered and watched since its introduction at international level in 2008? Benj Moorehead spoke to ten people covering a cross-section of the sport.
The opening batsman: Chris Rogers
I was new to DRS in the 2013 Ashes, and found it difﬁcult to bat and umpire at the same time, which is effectively what I had to do. The prime example was when, as the non-striker, I told Shane Watson to refer his lbw in the Second Test at Lord’s. The umpire was right – he was out. I was bitten by the experience, so I didn’t have the courage to refer the decision when Graeme Swann pinned me with a full toss a couple of overs later. In the whole context of the game, with the previous decision weighing on my mind, it was difﬁcult to use DRS, so I didn’t. But it was clearly not out. That makes the system not right, if you ask me.
You’ve got to use it tactically. For instance, if you have two referrals left, you’re more likely to do so than if you have one. Also, the better batsmen will tend to use it, not tailenders. The technology is supposed to be there primarily to get the decisions right. That’s why I think it should be taken out of the players’ hands, and given to the umpires.
We didn’t agree with a lot of the decision-making in England. With the umpire’s-call element, one ball can be hitting more of the stump than another, but be given not out – whereas the other one ends up as out. That is hard to comprehend. It caused me to make adjustments too. As a left-hander I’d usually move across to off stump when a bowler comes round the wicket. But at Trent Bridge, James Anderson got me with a marginal lbw on the umpire’s call – it was clipping leg stump – so I changed my guard and moved towards leg. I ended the year with a few runs, so perhaps I got the measure of it.
Chris Rogers opened the batting for Australia in last year’s back-to-back Ashes series, and is one of the Five Cricketers of the Year.
The photographer: Philip Brown
The ﬁrst DRS picture I got was of Andrew Flintoff looking to the dressing- rooms just above me during the Kingston Test in 2009. His ﬁnger was raised as if to say, “Am I getting this decision or not?” The shot was used in The Times.
But as time’s gone on, DRS has done my head in. As soon as there’s a referral, two blokes with luminous bibs run on with drinks canisters and stand around with the team. If they do get the decision, then celebrate, the picture gets ruined by a pair of bright jackets!
Very occasionally it can work. When Kevin Pietersen was given out on referral at Dubai in 2012, he threw his bat 30ft in the air, which I had never seen before. I was taking a few shots with my remote device and, through a stroke of luck, the bat seemed to be vertically suspended in the air (see Wisden 2013, page 275). Even better, Pietersen was right in line with a guy in a bright blue jacket, and hid him from the shot.
Of course cricket photography is not only about celebrations. But Jimmy Anderson taking the last Aussie wicket at Trent Bridge was a magic moment. I didn’t get the picture because he ran away from the majority of the photographers. I’m sure the players would have celebrated wildly if there had been no DRS, but then Anderson probably wouldn’t have done a 180-degree turn and the team wouldn’t have been in a group.
Philip Brown has been a cricket photographer since 1989.
The ICC Elite Panel umpire: Richard Kettleborough
International umpires are now under more scrutiny than ever. There is probably less tolerance for human error than before, because modern technology has redeﬁned marginal decisions as those measured by the millimetre. To assist the TV umpire, the Ashes TV broadcast in Australia, for instance, used 32 cameras, real-time Snickometer, Hot Spot, slow motion,ultra-slow motion, ball-tracking and stump microphones. Over time, DRS has proven just how many decisions we get right, but it also highlights errors of judgment, even if they’re only tiny. It is tough that the error is broadcast to all, but if it helps get more correct decisions, it’s better for the game.
DRS is not in place for every series, while the type and standard of technology used around the world often differ. For me, it was back to old- fashioned umpiring for Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test in Mumbai, with no DRS in place. Mumbai has just the sort of conditions where it would be welcome. The ball was turning and bouncing from the word go, and there were ﬁelders around the bat. An exceptionally noisy crowd made hearing a faint edge almost impossible. That is umpiring at its toughest. But it was a great privilege.
When I ﬁrst started as a TV umpire in 2008 there were adjudications on run- outs, stumpings, bump balls, clean catches and boundary decisions. Since then, the role has become far more demanding. The TV umpire sits next to the ICC match referee and now an ICC technician. There is a high-deﬁnition monitor showing all the different tools available. There is also a camera focused on the bowler’s front foot, and a feed to the TV director.
As you might expect, when a referral is made your heart-rate goes up: you have to keep your cool and stick to the protocols. We communicate with the TV director to ask for the necessary images, while also relaying what is happening to the on-ﬁeld umpires. For them, there is nothing worse than the silence while the review is taking place. Clear communication is vital.
Some people have put forward the concept of a specialist TV-umpire panel. This has some merit, but the TV ofﬁcial needs to understand the game and the different roles of an umpire, so on-ﬁeld experience is also crucial.
Richard Kettleborough won the David Shepherd (ICC Umpire of the Year) award in 2013.
The captain: Andrew Strauss
DRS was ﬁrst used in an England Test series in the West Indies early in 2009, and it felt like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Referring was an informal process: as captain, I made the decisions – and got quite a few wrong. Ryan Sidebottom had one lbw shout that I reviewed because it looked good from my position at short midwicket. It pitched six inches outside leg stump; I felt like an idiot. We soon realised you needed a strategy: wicketkeeper, bowler and captain had to agree.
You have to start thinking like an umpire. Where does a batsmantakeguard? Has it hit him in line? Is it going to show up on Hot Spot? So you have to get strategic with the technology rather than simply asking “Is it out?” – which is perhaps an unfortunate by-product. It’s easy to get emotional: “We really need a wicket, that looks close, let’s review.” But these are the high-pressure moments: you’ve got to be cool. By and large, the bowler would say it was out, and it would be up to me and the wicketkeeper to add a dose of realism. But it depends on the character. Graeme Swann thought every lbw was plumb, whereas Steven Finn might be unsure, even when it was out.
In the early days I could see a couple of umpires really wilting when decisions were overturned. But they became far more accepting of it, maybe because the best umpires generally have their reputations enhanced by the system. They are more likely to give a batsman out lbw on the front foot now. You have to either get your bat in front of your pad, or your front leg out of the way. We learned this to our cost against Pakistan on the low, skiddy wickets of the UAE in 2011-12.
Life has become more difﬁcult for taller batsmen in particular. Kevin Pietersen has always been an attacking player of spin, but he lost conﬁdence in his defensive technique because he was getting out lbw. So he’d try to keep his leg out of the way, and would then get bowled. Finger-spinners have come far more into the game, possibly at the expense of leg-spin. A good example on that UAE tour was Abdur Rehman, the Pakistani left-arm spinner who bowled quickly – almost as if he was on an old uncovered pitch. Leg-spinners used to have the advantage, because they could turn it both ways. But now it’s as if ﬁnger-spinners have more modes of dismissal. And the non-turning ball is often more dangerous than the turning one.
Andrew Strauss played 100 Tests for England, captaining in 50 of them.
The spectator: Allan Fairlie-Clarke
The ﬁrst time I came across DRS was in Barbados in 2009. It drove me nuts that nothing was shown on the big screens. There would be a referral, and the whole ground would look to the dressing-room, where somebody would be desperately trying to watch it on the telly and decide whether they wanted to review. We’d wait for the thumbs up or the thumbs down. At that point I was a DRS naysayer. We were being cut out of a big part of the spectacle.Itseemed to prove that the authorities cared more about TV viewers than spectators.
But seeing the review process on the big screens has added a dimension. The time it takes to process reviews doesn’t bother me, because you feel involved. At Adelaide in 2010-11, Ryan Harris got a golden duck in the ﬁrst innings, having referred the decision. In the second, there was a massive shout for lbw against him ﬁrst ball, and we were all screaming for another review; Harris obliged. The big screen was behind us, so we had to turn our backs to the ﬁeld. We saw the ball coming down in slow motion, and Hawk-Eye had it hitting the stumps. Everyone turned round again and gave a massive cheer. Harris is the only Aussie to have got a king pair in an Ashes Test; the fact he’d reviewed both added to the hilarity. DRS makes you feel like an umpire – and it’s another thing to talk about in the pub.
Allan Fairlie-Clarke has been watching England for more than 30 years.
The spinner-turned-commentator: Phil Tufnell
I’d been saying to umpires for years that my balls were hitting the stumps! In my day, if you couldn’t play spin you put your foot down the wicket, hid your bat and were never given out. Things began to change a little in the West Indies in 1997-98, when Robert Croft and I were bowling to Jimmy Adams in Guyana: he had no intention of playing the ball whatsoever.Eventually,Darrell Hair raised the ﬁnger, God bless him.
Of my 121 Test wickets, nine were lbw – around 7%. Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar are above 25%. Now that more front-foot lbws are given, batsmen are having to use their bat, which brings in the outside and inside edge. They have to read the spin and the length, instead of just thrusting the pad forward. I always looked to attack just outside the right-hander’s off stump, hoping for an edge or a mis-hit, but I would have bowled a lot straighter with DRS.
You probably get fewer No. 11 decisions now. I was once bowling for Middlesex at Lord’s, and Ray Julian was umpiring. We needed one wicket to win. Their last man had hung about for a while, and Ray said to me: “Tuffers, hit him on the pad. This bloke’s batting me into a trafﬁc jam!” So a couple of overs later I did, and we all got home on time.
Now that I’m a radio commentator, you have to be a tad cautious before you say “He’s gone!” I’m a traditionalist – the ﬁnger goes up, and that’s it – but DRS can add to the drama too. Remember the last wicket at Trent Bridge last summer, when England referred a not-out decision against Brad Haddin? Initially it all came to a disappointing halt. You wallow about for a bit, trying to explain to the listeners what’s happening. Then Hot Spot comes up on the screen, and I started shouting: “There’s a mark on the bat! He’s hit it!”
Phil Tufnell played 42 Tests for England as a left-arm spinner.
The TV producer: Bryan Henderson
DRS has effectively formalised the technology that was already in place. We had all the toys, and it was used as a tool to enhance the viewers’ enjoyment. As broadcasters, we have a duty to the game now that DRS is an ofﬁcial part of the sport. I am a massive fan: generally there are more correct decisions than before.
But there have been issues. The costs to supply DRS are signiﬁcant, and you can argue that the governing bodies should be ﬁnancing the process. But the relationship between governing bodies and broadcasters is haphazard. In Bangladesh, the television company might not have the money; in England and Australia, different companies have done the ball-tracking. So there’s been no uniformity, and that can make it difﬁcult for the fan to follow.
The other big area of confusion surrounds the umpire’s call. Having two possible verdicts for the same scenario strikes me as wrong. That’s hard to explain to people new to the sport. One possibility would be to allow viewers to listen in to the decision-making process between the on-ﬁeld and third umpire. There are concerns over the quality of English spoken by some ofﬁcials but, as a viewer, it would be good to hear those conversations.
Bryan Henderson is executive producer for cricket at Sky Sports.
The left-arm spinner: Daniel Vettori
Even before DRS, the technology used by broadcasters meant we were realising that a lot of lbw appeals were closer than we thought. Then DRS came in and, because people’s eyes had been opened, players were a lot more positive about appealing. Left-arm spinners have always attacked the pads, but with DRS in place it feels like a matter of course. Less talented batsmen know they have to ﬁnd a way to actually hit the ball, rather than just thrust out their pad.
The ﬂipside is that you’re no longer getting those 50–50s against the tailenders. Every decision has become a unique situation, so there tends to be an objective outcome. You used to build up a couple of appeals, and the last two wickets were deﬁnitely easier to get decisions for than, say, the ﬁrst two. But you can’t build up pressure on technology – there’s no emotion.
I think the creation of a balance between the umpiring decision and the technology has been good for the game. It’s important to diminish the umpire’s role as little as we can, otherwise it will all become automated and the game will lose something for it. Technology improves cricket, but it would be sad if it replaced the human element altogether.
Daniel Vettori has taken more Test wickets for New Zealand than anyone bar Richard Hadlee.
The club umpire: Terry Burstow
We’re never going to have DRS at recreational level, but the fact it’s on television does have an impact. There are 72 umpires on the Sussex panel, and we all agree that it has helped players to see how the lbw law works. You’d be surprised how many bowlers still don’t fully understand it. If you had a TV programme about cricket’s laws, do you think any kids would bother to watch? But if it’s in an Ashes Test and they go to Hawk-Eye, they love it. It’s been educational.
The thing you do get now when you give a decision is some bugger who will draw a television screen, or ask if you would have referred to that to the third umpire. I’d say that happens four times out of ﬁve whenever there’s a close decision. I suppose it is a form of dissent, but it’s a very mild one. They’re only doing that to get in your mind. DRS has just become something else they use to build pressure on us. That’s the way life has always been for an umpire. I smile, shrug my shoulders, and tell them I give what I see.
Terry Burstow has been an umpire in Sussex recreational cricket since 1993.
The wicketkeeper-batsman: Kumar Sangakkara
Judging when to review a decision has become an important job for the wicketkeeper, who is normally in a good position to see what’s happening. If you are keeping a bit wider than usual, then judging the line of the ball can be difﬁcult; it’s a case of appreciating the angles. The more you know about your bowlers, their lines and lengths, and how they look to get batsmen out, the more informed your judgment.
You also need to see how the pitch is behaving. And once you’ve played against someone for a long time, you know where they are taking guard, how far they go across before the ball is bowled, whether they play on the back or front foot. You can’t make a database in your own head, so you need points of reference as you go along.
DRS has not really changed the way I play: I don’t think about technology when I go in to bat. But as the non-striker you sometimes have to tell your partner after an lbw appeal: “Don’t get too emotional, take a deep breath. I think it’s pretty straight.” I know some non-strikers who watch the bowler’s front foot for no-balls. But do you really dare refer a clear catch because you think the foot was over the line?
It’s interesting to think what Muttiah Muralitharan would have achieved with DRS. Umpires were reluctant to give batsmen out on the front foot when he was bowling, and some weren’t able to differentiate between a doosra and an off-break. Towards the end of his career, Murali went round the wicket more to convince umpires that the ball was going to straighten and hit the stumps. DRS might have allowed him to be more ﬂexible with his angle. Who knows how many more wickets he would have taken?
Kumar Sangakkara has kept wicket for Sri Lanka in 48 Tests and more than 300 one-day internationals.
This article appeared in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014. You can buy it here.