Ashes 2013: DRS fuelled allegations — Vaseline and Silicone tapes — only create bad blood between the two sides

Kevin Pietersen (centre) was given out caught behind in the third Ashes Test. Hot Spot replays showed that Pietersen had not nicked the ball, despite a loud sound © Getty Images

Reports were rife that the players in the Ashes 2013 were using silicone tapes to cover their bats to prevent the Hot Spot from detecting thin deflections. This episode is similar to the Vaseline incident that took place during the England-India series in 2011. Nishad Pai Vaidya unravels the Decision Review System’s hidden collateral damage.

Remember the Vaseline accusations during India’s tour to England in 2011? In an attempt to deceive the Hot Spot, it was alleged that Indian batsman VVS Laxman had applied the product on the edges of his bat so as to make the Decision Review System’s (DRS) aid unresponsive to thin deflections. Now two years down the line, allegations of similar nature have popped up as the DRS continues to steal the limelight in the Ashes 2013. Reports suggested that some players involved in the series may have used silicone tapes on their bats to cheat Hot Spot.

Throughout the series, the inherent lacunae in the DRS have been brutally exposed. One can say that there has been no uniformity in the application and the decision making process, but there is no denying the fallibility of technology. In the past too, there have been instances where an apparent edge hasn’t been detected even as the audio and video evidences suggested otherwise. Those evidences have been used selectively and hence the lack of uniformity. Yet, with such inaccuracies prevalent in the Hot Spot, would the players try to put something on their bats? There is a fair chance that the thinnest of edges would go unnoticed there. They might as well take their chances without the tapes.

As the drama unfolded, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have demanded an apology from the media organisation that reported the allegations. Even the International Cricket Council (ICC) has refuted claims that Geoff Allardice, their general manager of cricket is investigating the matter. They have said that he is only meeting the two teams and the umpires to see how the DRS can be used optimally. So, the governing bodies are playing down the accusations even as the news spreads like wildfire.

Nevertheless, Allardice’s presence in England is important in the wake of Matt Prior‘s claims. The England wicket-keeper wrote in his column for The Telegraph, “Ultimately we all want the right decisions to be made but I am not sure we trust Hot Spot anymore. There are so many edges it has missed: Steve Smith and David Warner in this last Test are just a couple of examples. From our point of view it makes it hard to decide what to review.”  If the players are losing trust in a key component of the DRS such as the Hot Spot, it doesn’t augur well for its future. The players have to present their concerns and explain the uncertainty in their minds while using the system. It is imperative that the administrators, umpires and the players work in tandem to make the DRS more watertight. Although Prior expressed his reservations against Hot Spot, he did write, “I still believe it (DRS) is the way forward.”

Coming back to the silicone claims, one can sense a feeling of déjà vu from 2011. DRS has certainly caused problems on the field of play and has been responsible for howlers. However, there has been collateral damage — very hurtful at that. Now, you have sides questioning the integrity of the other. The very basic accusation is that the players have tried to bend their way around an inaccurate system. This only goes on to create bad blood and misunderstandings between the two sides — which is totally unnecessary in cricket.

In 2011, Michael Vaughan made explosive claims that Laxman had applied Vaseline on the edges of the bat. What angered the Indians was that a finger was pointed at Laxman — whose integrity is unquestionable and is someone who has always upheld the values of the game. If a gentleman like him can be blamed for such unfair practices, are the others too far away? Michael Clarke, the Australian captain too vehemently denied the claims and assured the public of the character of his team. Things do get ugly when there are murmurs of deceit.

Such is our reliance on technology in modern times that any error often leads to suggestions of human foul play. This is true not only in cricket, but in all walks of life in an era which is dependent on the machines. But, sport is something that engages people across all age groups and any suggestions of cheating are taken very seriously. It is quite ironic that a system that was supposed to nullify the element of human error and perhaps further the cause of fair play has inadvertently led to the spirit being questioned. While cricket itself battles to form a foolproof system, it can ill-afford questions over the credibility of players. If the players are trying to fool technology, it would certainly be a huge breach of trust. Until nothing is proved, these would only be allegations.

When there is confusion (about DRS) all around, supposed conspiracy theories are bound to surface — Vaseline and Silicone tapes are only incidental to the whole saga.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)