By Nic Copeland
Arriving in Sri Lanka on the back of a 0-3 series defeat and with questions hanging over their much-vaunted batting line-up, one might have thought England would have chosen to keep a lower profile. Arrogance is a word bandied around regularly in relation to English sporting teams, sometimes with justification (occasionally it is even used as a compliment) but mostly it is a lazy stereotype which portrays more about the accuser than the accused. Nevertheless it is a perception that has never really gone away, and remarks such as Graeme Swann’s ‘cheat’ allegation towards Dilwura Perera will have done nothing to assuage such impressions.
Just like the ‘arrogant’ tag, Swann’s accusation may say more about his own state of mind than that of Perera. With Saeed Ajmal having proved beyond doubt his status as the world’s best spinner, Swann’s immediate concern is to remain England first choice. As ham-fisted and ill-advised as his comment clearly was, nevertheless Swann has done a small service to the game by highlighting an issue which still needs some addressing, even in the era of Decision Review System (DRS).
Perera did not cheat; well he didn’t cheat any more than any other batsman who has ever stood and waited for the umpire’s decision when they knew they were out. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Even the saintly Rahul Dravid was not a 100% ‘walker’. So Swann used an ugly word and he used it incorrectly.
No, Perera did not cheat; instead he did something far worse, he questioned the honesty of another player. And this is where Swann’s anger came from and why I have some sympathy. By refusing to accept Andrew Strauss’ word that he had cleanly caught the catch, Perera was accusing the English captain of cheating.
In general terms DRS has had a positive impact on player behaviour. Batsmen now walk to a degree that would have been unthinkable in the late 80s or 90s. They are not more honest, as so-called ‘tactical reviews’ have shown, but they are realistic. An error or a lack of certainty on behalf of the on-field umpire will no longer save them. Not only that, but by standing your ground you risk technology highlighting your duplicity.
It is ironic therefore that, on the issue of low catches, technology has actually aggravated the problem. Television replays have brought into question catches which, like Strauss’, would simply have been accepted in the past. And batsmen, with their futures at stake, have taken advantage. Perera is just the latest example. During last winter’s Ashes ‘batathon’, Alastair Cook refused to walk on Ricky Ponting’s nod, incurring similar wrath to Swann’s, albeit delivered more discreetly.
Even had DRS been used in Colombo, in its present form it provides scant assistance. Catches can be reviewed, but there is no consistency in third umpire decisions. Put simply the technology is not good enough. Countless tea-time demonstrations have shown that catches that look to have bounced haven't, for reasons of camera foreshortening and two-dimensional imagery. Thus more often than not appeals are rejected (Martin Guptil’s fantastic low catch against South Africa last week was a notable exception) on the basis of the benefit of the doubt.
With technology as it is, the burden of proof is simply too difficult to satisfy. To this end I suggest looking to another sport, to rugby specifically, and allowing the on-field umpire to ask a different question: “is there any reason I can’t give this out”. Strong evidence would be needed for a claimed catch to be rejected. It would not be licence to cheat for fielders either. As was shown when Phillip Hughes claimed a clearly unfair catch again off Cook during the same Ashes series, the stigma attached to ‘cheating’, despite the inherent hypocrisy, remains as strong as ever.
DRS many not have made international players more honest but it has helped discourage their dishonesty. The answer is there for the International Cricket Council (ICC), they just have to ask the right question.
(Nic Copeland is an English cricket writer currently exiled in Belgium. He would have been the next Shane Warne, but sadly he was blessed with a hairline that was healthy and a talent which not so much receded as never really got going. You can read more from him at The Corridor of Discernity and follow his tweets at EuroNic42)